So a few weeks ago, I wrote about activities that are considered haram is Muslim countries in hopes of teaching friends, families, and followers about the interesting country we currently call “home.” Here I am at it again. But this time it’s about a product Rob and I have a deeper affinity for (at least more so than bacon or speeding on the highway)– beer!
Oman is one of the Muslim-majority countries that allows non-Muslims to enjoy libations. Whether it’s because they want to increase tourism, relish the taxes generated from alcohol sales, or just because they are open-minded, I don’t know what the reason is. And quite honestly, I don’t really care why Oman has an open alcohol policy. But I am happy and thankful to live here just the same because sometimes, a nice cold Belgian beer or a tall glass of South African Shiraz is just the antidote required after a long day.
So, here we are in a slightly dry country learning the ins and outs of how to purchase a drink which requires a bit of work.
First, you need to get a liquor license. Yes! A LICENSE to buy. And to get said license, you need to first become an Omani resident. With that resident card in hand, you then go to the police station with a smattering of paperwork (including a letter from your employer that states your salary as you’re only granted permission to spend up to 10% of your salary on alcohol). Once you’ve paid a fee, signed some documents, and submitted passport-size photos you are granted a license.
And…you’re nearly there.
Alcohol is hidden in shops with blacked out doors and no windows! Like this:
Once through the doors you arrive in a mecca (bad choice of words) of alcohol products. Beers. Wines. Spirits. Oh my!
Most beers are sold by the case (because why buy 1 when you could buy 24?). But you better be satisfied with your choices because your liquor license authorizes you to spend only up to a specific amount of money per month and not a rial more. This limit (which is listed in your license and tracked without error) makes shopping for alcohol a planned activity. Questions like How many beers do we have at home? or Do you think they’ll prefer red or white with dinner? are actual conversations people need to have before entering through the bulky black doors.
The other thing we’ve learned is–you don’t waste your purchase power! If you are allowed to spend 50 OMR ($129/€116) per month, you spend it! You spend ever baisa (read: cent) you have been allotted because your unspent limit doesn’t roll over from month to month. And since you can’t just go and pick things up when the last minute game night is planned–you’ll need to hoard a few drinks in your cupboards. You need a mini stockpile to get you through the dry month of Ramadan or those evenings when you invite 20 people over for dinner so you can offer them a caipirinha or an after dinner drink.
And once you understand the license, the limit, and the planning issues you’ve got one more thing to consider. How do I get it home? The secret is the black plastic shopping bag. It is this miracle item (accompanied by your receipt and license) that allows you to transport your purchases home (the only legal place you are allowed to consume) without anyone knowing what you’ve got in there. Yeah right!
For tourists and those out and about, alcohol is available at hotels and restaurants around the city… at a price. I think a delicious (yes, I’m being sarcastic) Budweiser or Corona will run you about 2.5 OMR ($6.5/€5.8) so your best bet is to have a drink at a friend’s house.
That said, the country has a NO TOLERANCE policy for drunk driving. Driving under any influence of alcohol can result in immediate jail time and huge fines.
Anyway, we’ve got it all sorted out. We’ve now got a mini stash for your upcoming visit (hint, hint).
On a side note, I’m not sure if I should have called this post the Beer Bizarre or Beer Bazaar because buying and drinking alcoholic beverages in Oman can be a bit of both!