Indonesia Loses the Christmas “Spirit” : Nation Faces Booze Shortage

by Tanya Thomas on  December 23, 2008 at 12:27 PM Lifestyle News
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As hotels, restaurants, bars and clubs in the Islamic-majority state of Indonesia are hit by severe alcohol shortage, drinkers in the country are grappling with the possibility of a very "dry" Christmas.
 Indonesia Loses the Christmas “Spirit” : Nation Faces Booze Shortage
Indonesia Loses the Christmas “Spirit” : Nation Faces Booze Shortage

Many top brands have disappeared from shelves while prices for lesser known and even poor quality labels have skyrocketed after a government crackdown on a flourishing black market in booze.

The measures are the latest in Indonesia's anti-corruption fight, with the finance ministry moving against alleged collusion between customs agents and illegal importers trying to bypass stiff import duties as high as several hundred percent.

With the flow of illicit drink largely cut off, retail prices have surged by as much as 400 percent for imported alcohol, which in Indonesia means everything except for locally brewed beer and hangover-inducing bottom-shelf concoctions usually made up of grain alcohol and artificial flavoring.

Even bottles of the cheapest Australian red wine available - which sells for around six dollars at home - have been marked up nearly double to 290,000 rupiah, or 27 dollars, while others have vanished, according to one retailer.

"In 2007, about 80 percent of the alcohol in Indonesia was being smuggled in and sold cheaply at the black market," Stephanus Yohannes Sabarno, operations director of the country's sole legal importer of alcohol, PT Sarinah, told AFP.

In the wake of raids and closures by the government, "less of a black market means less supply of alcohol too," Sabarno said.

"The distributors are turning to us now for their alcohol, but our current quota, especially for wines and spirits, is definitely not enough to go around," he said.

While most in Muslim-majority Indonesia forswear alcohol, or at least pretend to, the shortage is causing worries on the tourist island of Bali as well as the capital Jakarta, which is renowned for its raucous nightlife.

With Christmas and New Year fast approaching, many are trying to improvise, or bracing themselves to abstain.

"I have friends from Europe coming over for Christmas and I only have a bottle of wine left - so what do I tell them? 'Oh, sorry, we're having a water party on Christmas and New Year's Eve, or you bring your own wine'," one diplomat lamented.

Hospitality industry advocates and importers are pushing for the government to raise import quotas to deal with the shortfall, but the administration of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has been slow to act.

Suspicions are rife that the government is putting off reopening the floodgates on alcohol imports out of fear of looking bad in front of Muslim voters, whose religion proscribes drinking, ahead of elections next year.

In the meantime, hotels, restaurants and bars are hoping their existing supplies will be enough to get them through the festive season, and some have drawn up contingency plans to deal with the crisis.

The Hard Rock Cafe in Jakarta has been concocting special mocktails and cocktails using whatever alcohol they can find and pushing regular customers to try them, spokesman Arsika Ahmad said.

"Drinks are part of our core business. If we want to survive, we need to do something. Our customers understand about the shortage problem so they're willing to switch," she said.

Others are adopting a more philosophical approach.

"We can provide the entertainment, the Santa, the Christmas carols. But if clients ask for a wine brand that we don't have, we can only offer alternatives," said Romy Herlambang, a spokeswoman from the luxury Hotel Mulia in Jakarta.

"I'm sure gathering with the family is most important on Christmas. No liquor won't ruin the party, you can always celebrate with Teh Sosro ie bottled iced tea," she joked.

Source: AFP

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