Although strongly discouraged by Iran’s conservative Muslim government, discreet alcohol consumption remained popular in some suburbs of the nation’s capital until international sanctions caused the price of imported vodka to triple in the past year. But according to The Economist magazine, tipplers in Teheran are now toasting each other with arak supplied by the region’s enterprising Armenians.
Although Armenians in Iran have certainly been distilling the traditional raisin-based libation for centuries, there hadn’t been much demand for it outside their community until the price of popular vodkas such as Absolut skyrocketed.
“Posh drinkers of the better brands of whiskey and brandy, who would previously have been snooty about arak, are now turning to it,” the
magazine reports. The reason is that arak’s price has remained stable and cheap at the equivalent of $3 a liter. (Note to self: Order a case!)
For Armenians, the sudden popularity of arak has been a bonanza. “Many of my Armenian friends have left for America,” one arak dealer told the magazine. “But they all now say business is better here.”
The Economist reports that Armenian Christians are exempt from Iran’s no-drinking laws, although anyone selling the stuff in large quantities can be thrown in jail. For non-Armenians, there can be far more serious consequences to the arak craze. Death, for instance.
A Muslim drinker arrested as a repeat offender can be executed, but even those who avoid government suspicion run other risks associated with a black market of unregulated homebrew. One bad batch was blamed for 350 illnesses and six deaths in one week.
Anyone who wants peace of mind, as well as a smooth drink, should stick with the trusted source, the magazine reported.
“If your dealer isn’t Armenian don’t even think about getting it,” one consumer said.