The private jokes about Corona–the beer with a slice of lime, not the bug–are over. Now it isn’t so funny if you want to buy booze in Karachi.
Up until now the drill was simple: You messaged your bootlegger. He sent you the daily list on WhatsApp. Then you asked a very important question: pick up or delivery?
Usually you would meet somewhere half way after 8:30pm to pick up the goods.
Since March 23, though, things have changed. Getting out has become hard—but buying alcohol has become even harder.
Officially, you can’t buy alcohol in Pakistan but people have found a way around it. According to the law, only a non-Muslim can buy or sell liquor in the country. This does not in reality, however, stop anyone who wants a drink.
People who don’t have access to a bootlegger with smuggled and imported varieties, often go to dingy wine shops located in commercial residential areas. The boys, catering to men and women who drive up to the shop, are often non-Muslims and do the dealings between the client and seller.
Since the lockdown, wine shops have boarded up. Many of these boys have gone back to their villages for a break.
Initially, the government had announced a two-week closure for wine shops but since the lockdown has been extended, wine shop owners have said that they do not know when they will be back in business.
A young marketing executive said his local wine shop (Lucky Star) hoped to open by April 10. Another one in Clifton said: “No scene till April 14 at least.”
He told SAMAA Digital that since the lockdown, there was a shortage of beer and hard liquor. “For example, normally, we would buy a can of Murree Brewery’s wheat beer for Rs250. Now, a bootlegger is selling a carton of the same beer for Rs15,000.” They are preferring to sell in bulk.
A lawyer said that he had managed to get in touch with a bootlegger but he only had Black Label and Chivas for Rs16,000 each. “He wasn’t just selling one bottle but six. So that is almost Rs100,000. And it is pick-up only.”
One bootlegger said that he was only willing to deliver to trusted clients. “The people who call me, have been buying alcohol from me for years. They live close by so I don’t mind going out for them. Right now I have a lot of whiskey – Black Dog, Black Label, Chivas… Rs15,000 a bottle.”
Those who regularly imbibe try to keep stocked up for hard times. According to a college professor, he usually keeps back-up as around New Year and wedding season, bootleggers “jack up the prices quite a bit but I wasn’t prepared for this”.
Discussing his post-prandial drink, he said talking about it was like rubbing salt on his wounds. “No one is selling these days because these transactions take place at night, when we would normally go to get the booze. That’s when the curfew is.” A friend had someone who was selling Murree beer at a mark-up but no vodka. “I’m lucky enough to have had a stash before the lockdown and so far I’ve really been rationing out what I do have. Must say I’ve stopped drinking as much as I used to.”
Murree Brewery’s CEO Isphandyar Bhandara told SAMAA Digital that the brewery had been shut since March 24 but they have 10 to 20 percent in stock. “Nothing has gone out of our factory. The real question to ask here is: who is filling the gap? People who sell imported and smuggled booze or those who make moonshine?”