Saturday, 28 November 2015

WE'RE GOING ON A BEER HUNT - BAHRAIN NOVEMBER 2015




WE'RE GOING ON A BEER HUNT



What a Beautiful Day, We're Not Scared...

So it's the weekend in The Middle East and I've retreated to the island nation of Bahrain for a bit of R&R prior to flying to the states on Sunday night. Unlike Saudi Arabia, alcohol isn't illegal here and so with the sun shining, no sign of civil unrest and without much else planned for a Saturday afternoon I decided to hunt out any semblance of craft beer to be found.

A little Internet research told me I was probably going to be hard pressed on my quest as alcohol sales seem rather limited to hotel bars but I found a large mall containing an international supermarket so decided to try my luck. So I set out for the day with low expectations on what beer I might find, barely enough local currency to get me to the mall and no idea where the nearest ATM was.

Fortunately my concerns over the rather empty state of my wallet were relieved when I had just the right amount to pay the taxi driver. I handed over three notes coming to a total of 2 Bahraini Dinar and proceeded to the self proclaimed 'hypermarket' to see what I could find.

No prizes for guessing the children's book which inspired this post.

 

Splash, Splosh, Splash (the Cash)

As a side note, Bahraini Dinar is the second most valuable currency in the world and one of only three to be worth more than a British pound sterling. The top three, unsurprisingly, are all middle eastern countries (Oman at #3, Bahrain at #2 and Kuwait at #1). Small wonder then that it's worth issuing the currency in factional denominations - something I have never seen before anywhere else in the world.

Allow me to further digress with this quick travel tip - Always research in advance the value of the currency before heading any country you visit. Some friends I met on holiday recently recounted a tale of returning from the ATM having managed to withdraw a staggering 50p worth of Sri Lankan Rupees. My unfortunate acquaintance, having been sent back to the ATM for more money by his brother, realised he'd also left his card in the machine. The luckless brother's card had been re-swallowed by this point, never to be seen again. Suffice to say the beers were not on him that night.

A Half Dinar note (about 88p or $1.30 USD)
 

We're Going on a Beer Hunt

So back to the tale at hand... Having found the 'hypermarket' and what passed for the drinks aisle I can't quite express my disappointment when there was not a drop of beer to be found. Not even the titans of Coors, Budweiser or Heineken had managed to grace the shelves. I did, however, find a remarkable selection of non-alcoholic 'beers' or 'malt beverages' as they style themselves. It won't come as a surprise to say that not one tempted me to open my wallet, There was, however, one which caught my eye and reminded me of an story I often tell about my girlfriend, Laura.

The somewhat crude and simplistic story was a favourite of mine when introducing potentially gullible friends to her for the first time. I'd proudly proclaim that it was a little known fact that she was part native American Indian and that her seldom used cultural name literally translated means "Three Horses". When the inevitable question came as to how it was pronounced in her native tongue I'd relish in the delight of reciting it clearly... "Nag Nag Nag".

Laura isn't currently with me in Bahrain but I couldn't help but send her the photo and remind her how much I missed her nagging at times. Laura and I are due to meet up again in New York next weekend to check out the craft beer scene there so make sure to keep an eye out for that report.


Anyone for a non-alcoholic malted beverage? ... Neigh!

So the search continued and by this point trying to find a drop of beer in the middle east was feeling a bit like trying to find water in the desert. After leaving the 'hypermarket' I tried not to get too downhearted and looked for any restaurants or bars which might be worth checking out. I passed a TGIs and a Chilli's (both dry) and a myriad of other restaurants including this one which sold no beer and seemed to be named entirely for the purposes of taunting me:


At first I thought this was a mirage but IHOP soon turned to despair

Just as I was losing faith I came across an information counter which was kind enough to point out that the only places with alcohol licenses in the mall where the two hotels which shared the premises. The Meridien and the Westin.


A Narrow Gloomy Cave

So saddling my horse (there was no horse) to cross the desert (a rather bustling city centre mall) I headed to the Meridian. The entrance was a long thin corridor with an interesting art exhibition on display where an unknown and unrecognised artist had seemingly wondered the streets of Bahrain taking a photo every minute for 24 hours. As you'd probably expect the photos were rather hit and miss but I like the idea. 
At the end of the art exhibition was the Meridien Hotel bar. I couldn't believe my luck when I spotted the following sign at the entrance. Burgers and a hoppy beer? Yes please!
Hops on the House! Is this another Mirage?

My rising hopes of hops were soon dispelled as the 'hops on the house' advertised was a free pint of Stella (no alternatives available) which by this point I'd have been happy to settle for but unfortunately after sitting down in this place I found it the dingiest, smokiest most uncomfortable bar I've visited in years. It's been many years since the smoking ban in the UK and I found the thick, unventilated, pungent atmosphere too much to bear. What's worse there was no outside area to enjoy a burger and a pint in anything resembling fresh air. So, coughing and spluttering, I took my leave to try my luck at the Westin.

The Westin Hotel bar was called 'The Boudoir'. It was a modern, spacious and comfortable enough place and I passed several private curtained booths as I made my way to the bar. The curtains on the booths, I assume, predominantly cater for the more conservative middle eastern families, providing a degree of privacy to allow for the women to remove the veils of their Niqābs whilst eating out with the family.

The bar itself didn't have much to write about in the beer department other than a slack handful of standard lagers on tap. They did, however, have Paulaner in bottles. I'm not usually the biggest fan of hefe-wiezens but on this occasion it had been thirsty work hunting down something more flavourful than a generic bland lager and I was happy for the relief. Finally, I had my beer! I sat down with my hard earned pint and waited for my ride back to the apartment to arrive.

Beer in the Boudoir

When the bill came to 7 Bahraini Dinar a quick check on my phone told me this was only 15 pence short of the most expensive pint i'd ever bought at a whopping £12.35 or $18.50 USD!

 

Shut The Door and Back Upstairs

 
After enjoying my pint and pondering on whether the day had been a success or a failure I realised it had been another adventure what could be more important than that. I enjoyed the pint and afterwards retreated to the apartment for the evening to watch the sun set and the fishing boats leave the harbour for their evening of hard graft whilst care free local millionaires motor boated up and down the coast.

The apartment I'm staying in belongs to a colleague from work who's been kind enough to allow me to stay here for a few days whilst he's out of town. At first I was concerned he'd given me the wrong keys but eventually realised what I was doing wrong after following the instructions on the key ring.


Thankfully the instructions don't refer to some outmoded music hall tradition but to which side needs to face upwards when inserting the key into the lock.
 
Goodnight Bahrain

We're Not Going on a Beer Hunt Again (Until Next Week!)

Next week I'm in the states and hope to report back on far more beer related adventures. I'll also be taking a look into how the American cities I visit are managing their green spaces and hopefully meeting with people involved in transforming old spaces from wasted inner city concrete to gardens and parks which pull the local communities together. So comment, like, share, wave your hands in the air like you just don't care and, as ever, thanks for reading.

At this point I'd also like to thank Laura for her continuing support (being one of the few people who I can trust to give me brutally honest feedback) and my good friend Chris, who's help in setting up the website, designing the logo and generally giving me blogging advice has been invaluable.


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