Before I arrived here in the Kingdom it had been of chief concern for a many number of individuals as to what I was possibly going to do without being able to indulge myself in libations. Not knowing what to expect, and generally fearing the worse, I consoled myself with the notion that I would pick up the worst habits I could, as soon as possible. Upon taking conversation, most people realized that without booze, women, or general freedoms, I would be pretty much on my own and suffering hideously, thus I would ultimately end up with an inevitable bad habit of picking up smoking. Or worse. Luckily, this has not been the case, for as much as people smoke here (and my do they smoke), my fears have never been realized.
Most weekends around the compound involve a considerable amount of illegality. Alcohol is completely illegal here in the Kingdom, but that hardly stops most westerners from indulging themselves in a myriad of different ways. Home-brewing is fairly common, and each compound has at least two or three reliable sources that one can count on to provide a good time. Moonshine is relatively available and goes by the name of Sidique (Sah Dee Kay), which is more often than not terrible, tastes of piss water, and gives some of the worst hangovers imaginable. Lastly, and only if you have connections or are incredibly lucky, you can procure regular beer or liquor through the available channels such as American or British consulates or Foreign Service members within the Royal Family. Each avenue has its disadvantages and costs.
Thankfully, one of the first weekends I was in country I befriended a wonderfully funny young Scottish man who went by the name of Mick. He had an incredible temper, and on more than one occasion ended up ruining an evening, but he made for a great host. He introduced me to homemade wine here in the Kingdom, and, upon finding out that he was going back home indefinitely, he was gracious enough to give me the materials necessary to start my own little hobby. Since then I’ve been a wee bit busy.
Homemade wine and hard apple cider. And, yes, that is a condom. Let me explain.
Home brewing is quite the tradition here in the Kingdom. Just about everyone who indulges themselves has their own opinion on the matter, and once the topic comes up, most people are surprisingly forthright about how one should go about making their own beverages. I’ve had many a conversation about what raw ingredients make the best wine, and how to go about mixing, fermenting, and bottling whatever it is I should choose to make.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been experimenting, for lack of anything better to do, and here is the result.
The finished product from my first batch of homemade wine. 15 liters
Making wine is fairly straight forward. You buy a fairly large amount of grape juice, which usually draws suspicion from the clerk at the grocery store, and proceed to mix it with sugar and yeast. The recipe I use calls for 16 liters of grape juice, 1 liter of pomegranate juice (for vitamins and flavor), 1 kg sugar, and somewhere around 2 teaspoons of yeast (which is up in the air because teaspoons and milliliters don't translate all that well). You mix it together and let it sit in a large container, which in my case is a large water cooler carboy, and top it off with an airlock. Seeing as an airlock is hard to come by in a dry country, its easier to use a condom (or a balloon, a bag of which happens to be exorbitantly expensive) with a hole poked in the top to let out the excess gas, which is a byproduct of the alcoholic fermentation. Two or three weeks later you have wine with an alcohol content of 8 to 14 percent. It isn't the most delicious in the world, but it gets the job done.
Siphoning the wine. It has a considerable amount of sediment.
All the yeasty bits. They make for an interesting smell and an incredible hangover.
Most of the wine comsumed in my compound comes from an outside source. The compound it's usually made in sits near Aramco (the Saudi/American oil conglomerate) and it happens to be a considerably profitable enterprise. People pay upwards of 30 Riyal, or something like seven dollars, for a one liter bottle of watered down, alcoholic, grape drink. As best as I can figure, my wine comes in at just around 90 cents a liter, tastes considerably more like actual grape wine, and isn't watered down, which most people here are happy with. The taste is somewhere between Mogen David and communion wine (with a tinge of rubbing alcohol), but pickers can't be choosers.
The raw ingredients for the second and third batches of wine I made earlier today.
My carboys. and my obligatory cup of coffee.
Four hours after I mixed the juice, sugar, and yeast, I came back from the pool and was greeted
by the fully inflated condom, which means the yeast has taken and will start producing alcohol.
The cupboard in which I keep my wine and supplies. The wine will be ready
in a few weeks, the four bottles of hard apple cider will be ready in five to six days.
Living here is an introductory course on life on the fringe. Just about every weekend you meet new people and experience new things, homemade concoctions being one of them. For the most part, everyone is congenial and a great time is had by all. Sometimes things don’t work out as well as they should and the worst that usually happens is a massive hangover and a relatively minor amount of regret.
Making wine has brought with it an incredible opportunity to meet people I otherwise wouldn't have known. I never would have thought that four weeks of living in one of the most religiously prohibitive countries on earth would have brought out my interpersonal skills, but here in the Kingdom each day is full of surprises.