“Bedouin tea and shisha we expected, and Turkish coffee I’d hoped for, but on a recent trip to the newly liberated Arabic Republic of Egypt (at the bitter end of the Mubarak regime), we made some discoveries that quickly dispelled any pre-conceived expectations held about the history and perceptions of consuming alcohol in a predominantly Muslim country.
1. On history: One of the first societies known for its common beer consumption was ancient Egypt. Obvious. Supposedly brought by Babylonians, beer held the functions of medication, currency, and was drunk by all levels of society, children including children. Some things never change.
2. On contemporary ties: Women were traditionally the primary, but not exclusive, breweresses of Egyptian beer, taught by the god of the underworld, Osiris.
As the tale tells, Osiris was chopped into 14 pieces by his own brother Seth, before he sent him down the Nile. Thank these gods for strong currents, which helped Osiris reappear in beer format recently in Indiana.
3. On story telling: The hieroglyph for beer jug appears on most Egyptian antiquities, which, we became aware, are only beginning to surface in this ancient land.
4. On taste testing: Though variations in texture and color are slim, today’s Egyptian beer-no longer topped with mealy leavened bread-is not quite competition for its teas and mezzes, but perfectly enjoyable (and affordable) nonetheless. Costing on average 7-14 LE ($1-2) per 650 ml quart, those we found were all aptly named after hyped tourist sites:
- Stella, a highly carbonated, clear, hoppy lager most commonly drunk by visitors of Cairo, and as per this ad, brewed for this purpose for over a century:
- Sakara, a tasty blond with a little foam, great finish, consumed largely (by these visitors) on the sunny Gulf of Aqaba.
- AND! a very unexpected personal fave: Luxor, an easy dark wheat-with a little sediment to boot-is suprisingly well made in a country of sand.
- Notes: Though latter two took to our tastbuds best, and the probable German tourist-inspired dunkl weizen by Luxor, which was served in a traditional top heavy weissbier glass, was by far the biggest surprise of them all!
5. On service: Beer was not so much hard to find across the country, but it was hard to have served. This is in a part due to the sacriligeous tie of Muslims and alcohol consumption, but the same holds true for a follower to provide it for others. Thus, aside from hotels, clubs, and some coastal dive resorts full of recent tourism grads, you simply have to go find it for yourself. This of course made for some interesting back alley snooping on our part, often into ultra shady one-walled bottle shops, where we left with the goods of the gods in mysrerious opaque black bags.
In summary: All recent developments considered, including an announcement by Oprah to soon host live from Tahrir Square (haven’t even processed that one) we may all be seeing a greater variety of the liquid treats of the ancient land sold closer to home than ever imagined (and I don’t mean the export strains). This certainly wouldn’t be a shame for anyone, although I suggest to any thirsty traveler looking for a vacation with variety go try them for yourselves in this facsinating land of plenty.”This story comes to you courtesy of my journalist in the field, Erika Deep Sea Dawn who recently traveled to Egypt for her honeymoon. Thanks EDSD! You can hear more of her adventures from her Twitter account, @ErikaDawnWright