Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Alcohol in Saudi Arabia

I first came to Saudi Arabia on a 3-day "look see" visit before accepting the job offer from my current employer. On the very first day here two British soon-to-be colleagues took me to a pub at lunchtime for a pint of beer. True, the beer was home made and the "pub" was an illegal bar, but the beer was real nonetheless.

It is well-know that alcohol is illegal in Saudi Arabia. What is less well know is how much alcohol is produced and consumed in this country. It is a veritable cottage industry.

There are those who come to Saudi with the attitude that alcohol is against the law here and while they are, in effect, guests in this country, they will respect the local laws and customs. Others feel differently - for them there are many opportunities to obtain and drink various types of alcoholic drink.

One of the first things you come across when you came to live in Saudi Arabia is "sid". This is short for "siddiqi" which is arabic for "my friend". "Sid" is a locally distilled spirit. A one gallon jar of "un-cut" sid can be bought for about 300-400 riyals (GBP 50-60). Since this "un-cut" sid needs to be diluted one part of sid to one or two parts of water, one gallon of un-cut sid will go a long way. Sid is usually drunk with a mixer such as coca-cola or tonic. Personally, I don't like it - I think it smells like paintbrush cleaner!

Un-cut sid is extremely powerful and dangerous. I heard a story about a woman who came out to Saudi to join her husband. Shortly after she arrived, some friends came to visit while her husband was out. Being polite she offered them a drink and they asked for a sid and coke. Unfortunately, the sid she severed them was un-cut: it took the guests three days to recover from alcohol poisoning. The woman's husband was extremely angry with her, although it seems to me that it was not her fault.

Many people brew their own wine. It is easy to do - all you need is grape juice, sugar and yeast. Mind you the results are very variable. If you are invited round to someone’s house for a drink and you ask for wine, you are playing Russian Roulette. You may be served something acceptable or it may be absolutely disgusting - and you have to drink it out of politeness.

Very few people brew beer; it's a little bit more complicated than wine. However, most of the bars serve beer; it's obviously home-made and, for me, it's an acquired taste. One of the wives on a compound where I used to live brewed some excellent beer. Unfortunately, she returned to the UK before I could get the recipe from her.

Bottles of real spirits can also be bought on the black market. Last time I enquired, the price was 450 riyals (GBP 70) a bottle. A bit too expensive for me and, anyway, I'm not too fond of spirits.

An friend of mine told me that he once met a sales representative for a well-known brand of whiskey out here. My friend asked what he was doing here since there wasn't much of a market for his product out here. "On the contrary" replied the rep, "this is one of our biggest markets"!

You way be wondering how the spirits are smuggled into Saudi. One way is by passing ships dropping a consignment overboard and a Saudi fishing boat coming along and picking it up later.

Smugglers are, of course, noted for their ingenuity. A few years ago there was some "excitement" in the city of Al Khobar, over on the Gulf coast and a British ex-pat had to leave the country in a hurry. Apparently, whiskey was being smuggled over the Saudi-Bahrain causeway on a Coca-Cola truck. Unfortunately, one day the driver gave the bribe to the wrong customs officer!

Another story I’ve heard is about a Saudi prince who landed in his private jet, with his entourage, at an airport in one of the other Gulf countries. Normally, the planes belonging to members of other royal families are not searched out of courtesy. However, for some reason this plane was searched and guess what they found - crates and crates of whiskey and other spirits!

Because there is little entertainment available in Saudi some people do end up drinking more than is good for them. One last story, which may be another myth. A UK company had an employee who had a serious drinking problem. Since Saudi Arabia is nominally “dry” they thought they could help him by sending him to work in their Saudi office. Unfortunately, he ended up being returned to the UK suffering from cirrhosis of the liver!



Anonymous said...

Saudi Police here

What is your real name and where is this bar?

If we do not catch you please lash yourself 100 times

Anonymous said...

s so true, alcohol is so easy to get, im only 15 and i can get it lick That! and if people onyl had any idea how much its drank even around the teeneagers OUFF!

Anonymous said...


f**k all you gay saudi police! lols!

Anonymous said...

A local bar that serves beer? LOL! no way

Anonymous said...

saudis love their moonshine, they are all hypocritical bastards

they ban gays and liquor while their princes do little boys and get wasted

abuTrevor said...

"A local bar that serves beer? LOL! no way"

Yes, on a western compound. They used to get raided every now and again. They're probably all closed by now (but new ones may have opened up).

"saudis love their moonshine, they are all hypocritical bastards

they ban gays and liquor while their princes do little boys and get wasted"

No, they go to Bahrain to drink the real stuff and visit the Russian prostitutes ...