So there has been something that has not been quite right about alcohol sales here and I couldn’t put my finger on it. It’s surprising how small piece of information suddenly make the jigsaw fall into place.
The scarcity of alcohol is to be expected where the majority of the population are Hindus and most of them don’t drink. Why would a shop stock something that has a slow turnover and take up valuable shelf space? But that was just it, the shelf space was large but the stock widely spaced and usually only one or two bottles depth of anything in a row. I couldn’t fathom it.
The other difference is that alcohol is sold separately. Supermarkets have a separate wines and spirits store within the supermarket – like the UK supermarkets did 30 years ago. Some are simply sectioned off behind glass walls and purchases have to be completed within them whereas others have the Liqor store near the entrance.
Then there are the separate Liqor stores. When I say ‘store’ don’t think of a UK shop or off licence; the one I have seen is attached to an Indian hotel (like a B&B in the UK) and looks like an old fashioned ‘spit and sawdust’ pub (without the sawdust) in the UK. I’ve not seen any women go in there. Frankly, it just makes you look a bit desperate and a bit of an addict so sticking to supermarkets is better.
Both types of Liqor store only sell alcohol. No snacks or bottle openers or corkscrews – just alcohol. No mixers or ice or stirrers – just alcohol.
Buying wines and spirits from roadside storefronts is playing Russian Roulette and best avoided. At best the bottles will have been in full sun and the bottle will be very expensive vinegar and at worst it will be counterfeit and could make you very ill or kill you. But you know, some people like that type of gamble and risk – if that’s you – go for it but you’re on your own.
The shelves in the separate section the supermarket are nicely arranged with the minimal selection available. Now I thought this was because of reasons already stated and the fact that alcohol is just expensive here due to state taxes – imported alcohol is extortionate due to the high duties – but I was mistaken. There is a limit to what people can buy – not because of income but because of law. The limit is 2 litres per person. No more than that can be purchased at any one time without a permit. It is illegal to store more than 2 litres of alcohol in the home too. I asked how that was policed and the answer was that they can come into your home and check but the reality is that they don’t.
So there is an exception to every rule. Large quantities can be bought and stored for celebrations and weddings but you still to have a permit to buy it, or know someone who does. Knowing someone who has an army permit seems to be a good thing. That’s if you can afford it. A bottle of very average imported wine will set you back at least INR 1,200 (£12). Anything half decent costs INR 1,500 (£15) to INR 3,000 (£30). Wine in restaurants costs about five times the amount of the main course. It’s ridiculous. Not as ridiculous as the price of champagne here though. *faints*
Indian beer, e.g. Kingfisher, is cheap but strong – especially the premium variety. You’ll have to pay over INR 1500 (£15) for a bottle of drinkable Indian red wine. I’ve not braved the white yet. We did try a bottle of red which cost INR1200 (£12) and it was only suitable to make Sangria.
So the reason there is so little on display is now making sense. Not many people drink, it’s super expensive and you’re limited to 2 litres at any one time. So travellers, visitors and guests – bring the 2 litres of alcohol you are permitted with you. If you forget, pick it up at the duty free shop by the baggage reclaim as it’s still half the price than it is outside the airport.
We are truly spolit in the UK. The lack of decent wine and cheese must be killing the French expats here as well as me.