This blog documents my attempt to drink a beer from every country in the world and every state in the United States.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Country #37: Egypt

Beer: Sakara Gold

Brewery: Al Ahram Beverages, El-Obour City, Egypt

ABV: 4.0%

I just had the one, and it was a bottle. Had a drank 30 cans of these things, I TOTALLY would have made a beer-amid.
Egypt is a Muslim country, so it’s generally not a big fan of booze. Egyptian leisure activities involving unhealthy consumption run the gamut from hookah smoking to Coca-Cola binging to fig gorging, but hitting the sauce generally isn’t very popular. Egypt does make beer, though, which you should have figured out by now, because you’re reading this. So who’s drinking it?

This guy, catching rays in Sharm el-Sheikh.
There is a sizeable Coptic Christian minority (9%), and despite Hosni Mubarak’s general repression of the population, Islamic fundamentalism was never on the government’s agenda, so the beer stuck around. Egypt is also popular with tourists, what with its pyramids and excellent Red Sea scuba diving, and it’s a known fact that tourists like beer. So there are your boozers.

Egypt's Coptic Christians can be identified by their raucous partying, and pretty much always have a cross or a beer in their hand. But in all seriousness, they have been persecuted a lot lately.
It turns out that there are multiple Egyptian beers. But as far as I can tell they’re all made by the same brewery, Al Ahram Beverages (located just outside Cairo), which is, of course, owned by Heineken. The most popular domestic beer is Stella—no relation to Stella Artois—but I found a bottle of something called Sakara Gold at an upscale supermarket in Hong Kong.  The name refers to Saqqara, an ancient burial area along the Nile home to the famous Step Pyramid of Djoser. It tastes like beer, and in a hot country with few choices for alcohol, I’m sure it hits the spot.

The Step Pyramid of Djoser, at Saqqara, as pictured on the Sakara Gold logo.
But it’s unclear for how long it will hit continue to hit that spot. While Mubarak was undoubtedly a jerkface, he was a secular jerkface who, while Muslim himself, still enforced a separation of mosque and state. While democracy has been trying to bloom in Egypt in the wake of the Arab Spring, many of the people winning elections are a little less sympathetic to non-Islamic culture, and groups like the Muslim Brotherhood have gained increased influence. It makes one wonder what might happen to the brewing industry (and, more frightening for Egypt’s economy, the tourist industry) if more conservative Muslim elements are able to pass laws in Egypt.

Horus getting shitty. Beer was used as on offering to the gods in Ancient Egypt, who were surely grateful (image credit here).
Even if theocracy takes over and alcohol is illegalized in Egypt, the country’s history will forever be tied to beer. Soon after the Ancient Egyptians figured out that the Nile’s biannual flooding made it possible for them to grow lots and lots of grain, they started making bread with the grain. And soon after they figured out how to make bread, they figured out how to make beer.  This low-alcohol beer was very different from the stuff we drink today. It was an important food source for the population of the Nile Valley, was used as wages for the workers building the pyramids, and was probably very thick and syrupy, with flecks of grain floating in it. It was so pervasive in the culture of Ancient Egypt that children drank it for breakfast. Now that’s my kind of country! (For a more detailed account of beer in Ancient Egypt, I recommend A History of the World in 6 Glasses, by Tom Standage, available here). Of course, since beer nerds are so often plain old nerd nerds, plenty of people have tried to replicate it. And while nobody can truly say what the stuff would have tasted like, it clearly wouldn’t have tasted anything like Sakara Gold.

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