Booze in Egypt
The only place to buy real booze in Egypt is at the duty free. Here’s the deal. You have to purchase it within 48 hours of arriving in the country and you are limited to four bottles at the airport OR three bottles at the few duty free stores in neighborhoods. You may only do this four times a year, which isn’t that hard with traveling on breaks. After your four times are used you may still purchase alcohol upon entry, but you are limited to one bottle. A bottle of wine counts just as much as a bottle of hard liquor. A case of beer, when they have it, counts as one.
With the fall of Morsi this past year we ended up starting school two weeks late in September, so I had chance to leave the country an extra time. I did not yet have this year’s work visa so I had to purchase a tourist visa upon my return. This was not so great for my almost full passport, but, since the visa the agent simply handed me my peel off adhesive visa, I took advantage of the situation and covered my fourth liquor stamp. Result, an extra opportunity to fill my dwindling (empty) wine and liquor collection. I got to do this twice, once after the September trip to Ethiopia, and again after a school trip to a development conference in Dubai. Lucky me.
There are some locally produced quaffs. The hard liquor is unspeakably bad and not worth mentioning. One company, managed by Heineken, makes everything. That’s right, somehow the Dutch have a connection here. Wine, beer, you name it. You can actually buy Heineken, but it is the only foreign brand available. The local beers, Sakkara, and Stella give me a headache. They are lagers. There is nothing else. My kingdom for a porter or a brown ale. I believe there is a malt liquor, but it’s in the category of the local hard hooch, awful.
Now this all may make me, and my colleagues, sound obsessed with alcohol, and there is undoubtedly glee when one returns from a journey, but think about it. Four times a year times three or four bottles. That’s barely more than a bottle of wine a month or a couple bottles of wine and bottle of the hard stuff. How many times do you just wander down to the liquor store to pick up a bottle of decent wine? Imagine, “Honey, can you pick me up a six pack?” “Sorry dear, we’re going to have to wait until we take our next international trip.” Keep track of what you purchase for a while; add it up.
Concerning Egyptian wine, the local stuff becomes palatable some weeks after you have had your last taste of real wine. I have been to the one and only winery in Egypt, again, managed by Heineken. Grapes come from Portugal, South Africa, and Lebanon. I have yet to find a white that I can tolerate, and a few reds are drinkable given the alternative, none. On several occasions I have been brought to my knees upon the first sip of a good Italian, French, Greek, or California wine. The experience can be almost orgasmic, though a shock to the system.
Yes there is the pollution, yes there is the traffic and the honking, yes there are the bratty rich kids we teach, yes there is the call to prayer waking me up at 0515, but it is that first drink of decent red wine that really begs the question, “Why the hell do I live here?” The answer to that question is for other posts.
Oh, by the way, come visit, and don’t lose your boarding pass.