Getting Drunk in Saudi Arabia
Everyone knows that drinking booze is against the Muslim religion, but can you drink alcohol in Saudi Arabia?
When I first flew into Riyadh, a few years back now, I was expecting to have a very dry life, but within 20 minutes of arriving on my new compound I was sat beside the pool with a large group of expats getting very drunk on a local brew called sidique or just sid for short. This drink is basically neat alcohol produced by fermenting sugared water and then distilling the resulting mix. As such it is very strong (neat medicinal alcohol) and most people will dilute a neat bottle of sidique 3 or 4 times to get a drink that is more drinkable; that’s turn one bottle into 3 or 4 bottles before you even start to mix it with your cola!
Most of the larger compounds have a bar of sorts, however most of them only serve home brewed booze which tends to mean lager that has been re-fermented to add back the alcohol, or wine which is fermented fruit juice available from the local supermarkets. Alcohol is actually very simple to make, you only need to add a couple of grains of yeast (cooking yeast is fine) to a bottle of non-alcoholic lager or a bottle of fruit juice with a little added sugar and leave it to ferment for a few days and you will have yourself some booze.
Alcohol is illegal
Alcohol is so illegal that you will not even find a version of your favorite Listerine mouth wash that contains it. You cannot buy alcohol in any form openly in KSA; although that does not mean that you can’t get it!
Bringing booze to Saudi Arabia
Don’t be stupid! Smuggling in booze is likely to get you into serious trouble, the sort of trouble that will entail long stays in jail and losing your job. It really is not worth the risk; you can buy alcohol when you get there if you ask around your fellow expats. Within a few weeks of being there I had enough contacts to buy just about any type of booze you could need, just don’t try to buy from Saudis or other Arabs.
Home made booze in KSA
There are many expats (and Saudis) who make their own beer and wine, it really is as simple as I described above although most will produce their booze on a slightly larger scale than a bottle at a time. The 5 or 6 gallon containers that you buy water in for your water dispenser are the perfect container for producing enough beer or wine for a small party. The whole process however can take over a month as you need the mix to ferment and then for the resulting mix to settle so that the suspended yeast sinks to the bottom before you siphon your nectar into individual bottles.
You can spot the brewers in the supermarket fairly easily, they are the ones with a trolley that is piled high with fruit juice, cases of non alcoholic beer and large bags of sugar. The fruit juice that comes in the glass resealable bottles is best as these bottles although a little more expensive are perfect for putting your beer back into when finished.
The results of home brewing can be highly unpredictable, especially if you fail to sterilize your kit properly before you start. Taste can also vary a lot depending on the amount of extra sugar you add and the quality of the beer or juice that you use for your base. I tend to add apple and peach juices to my grape juices as I find these improve the finished flavors. I have tried fermenting some of the flavored lagers also but I do not recommend them!
Personally as a bit of a party animal I would tend to have 4 or 5 of these containers at various stages of fermentation, this however can be risky as if you are caught you will probably be thought of as a supplier and will have little chance of escaping being thrown in the jail. Never sell booze it really is not worth the risk! Remember also that they they do stink a little as they ferment so you will not want them in the house unless you can put them in a spare bathroom (which is what I used to do in my apartment off compound), or an unused bedroom.
Buying real drinks in Saudi Arabia
Real drinks are available, in fact one compound bar that I know of in Riyadh is stocked with nothing but bottles of Jack Daniels, Smirnoff Vodka, and the local favorite Black Label. Beer is harder to come by but you can still buy cans of beer if you are lucky enough to find them and willing to pay the price. A bottle of “real” drink can set you back over 1000SAR (that’s almost $300), although you can find “bargains” if you have patience and are prepared to shop around.
Saudis and Alcohol
While some Saudis follow their religion and do not drink, many will have a bottle of something stronger than lemonade in their home. Most of my Saudi friends that I socialized with regularly have a stock of whiskey and other booze and have even been known to turn up to work totally drunk!
If you want to see the real Saudi attitude to drink you only have to try to cross the causeway into Bahrain at the weekend where you will have to join a 4 or 5 hour long queue of Saudis on their way over to chase women and drink in the many bars. If you don’t want to sit in your car on the bridge book a flight to Dubai for a weekend party; but book well in advance.
Sid is a neat alcohol that has been fermented and distilled, therefore it is risky! Poorly distilled sidique can contain other chemicals such as methanol which can turn you blind or even kill you so be very careful from who you buy. If you do buy sid check it by putting a small amount onto a teaspoon and light it. It should burn with a blue flame and leave no residue on the spoon. If the flame shows yellow or even worse green then do not drink it, just pour it down the sink! It is not worth risking your life for a drink!
Getting caught with Alcohol in Saudi Arabia
Do not travel with Alcohol in your car or on your person, there are many checkpoints and Saudi drivers are crazy so accidents happen frequently and you have to wait for the police! If I ever had parties off compound or away from my apartment when I lived off compound I would have a Saudi friend transport the booze. If a Saudi is stopped with booze the worst that is likely to happen is that the police will steal it and slap his wrists.
If you are stopped in a car full of booze you will either have to spend a lot of money on the police who have stopped you or you will be spending the remainder of your Saudi stay in the luxury of one of their hell holes of a prison. Just remember prison is for punishment in Saudi Arabia not for reform!
Drunk Driving in KSA
There is no law about driving while intoxicated, after all you can’t drink! That being said, if you are caught drunk behind the wheel of your car you will be in some very deep excrement. You need to completely sober and in full control of your senses to drive in Saudi Arabia at the best of times so it really is not worth it! Don’t drink and drive!
If you want to know anything else about drinking alcohol in Saudi Arabia just leave a message bellow and I will respond after I have finished having a drink by the pool with the guys!