Across the Middle East, a heady new trend is brewing, though you may not find many raising a toast in acknowledgement.
Statistics indicate a surprising but clear spike in alcohol consumption in the Muslim-dominated region. Between 2001 and 2011, liquor sales there shot up 72%, according to London-based market research company IWSR. This is an astonishing surge, considering that the average global rise during the same period was 30%.
Nevertheless, analysts believe the spurt in alcohol consumption in the MENA region is largely a result of swelling tourism, especially the influx of business travelers, with the opening up of Middle-Eastern economies. A large community of expatriates and a rising population of youngsters is another reason for the alcohol industry’s jolly outlook in the region. But The Economist argues that the trend cannot be attributed to “non-Muslims and tourists alone.” The newspaper contends that though only about 5% of Muslims in the region publicly admit to drinking, alcohol is the new status symbol for many locals. Imported liquor is used to impress guests in many Gulf countries, and in Beirut, people do not hesitate to brag about the quality of their local wines.
In Syria, the production and distribution of beer is controlled by the government, and most widely sold through the army's Military Social Establishment supermarket chain and through mini markets in city centres and Christian as well as Muslim areas. Beers imported from Lebanon are not common, although brands like Lebanese Almaza, Heineken and Amstel are popular and available in hotels or smuggled to some stores in the different parts of cities. Two local brands of beer are available in Syria: Al-Shark (from Aleppo) and Barada (from Damascus).