Prohibition Abroad

We forget sometimes (or I do, at least) that alcohol prohibition was not solely an American phenomenon. I was reminded of that recently, as I traveled through Central Asian countries of Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan. In each country, our guides mentioned the prohibition era of 1985-1987, when Gorbachev launched a campaign that seems to have been partial prohibition. Prices on alcohol were raised and sales were restricted, but more serious than that, existing wineries and breweries were shut down and farmers were forced to cut down their grape vines. It sounded a lot like the 1920s in America. One of our guides said that his grandmother had to cut down her vines, but since the prohibition was rescinded after only a couple of years, the roots hadn’t been dug up and the vines came back, giving Grandma back her home-made wine production. Since Prohibition lasted 13 years in the U.S., farmers here weren’t as fortunate.

Russia (pre-Soviet Union) did have a go at complete prohibition back in 1914 when World War I broke out. In an effort to make sure soldiers didn’t drink, they banned all sales of alcohol, except in restaurants, which allowed the tiny number of rich Russians to continue consuming whatever they wanted. Predictably, it had about as much success as Prohibition in the U.S., which is to say, very little.

Today, I was glad to see, the secular countries of Central Asia have no such restrictions on alcohol. Wine, beer, and liquor is sold in bars and clubs and restaurants and hotels, and we were able to visit two active wineries. We enjoyed tasting the local wines whenever possible, even though they were not generally the sort I like. Central Asians prefer sweet red wines and don’t make or drink much white–I like my wine dry, red and white.

As an aside, if you are trying to come up with an unusual, safe, and fascinating trip, consider Central Asia. The best country is Uzbekistan. Its cities–Tashkent, Bokhara, Khiva, and Samarkand–have magnificent sights. The only drawback (besides the sweet red wine) is the distance.

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Published in: on October 30, 2018 at 4:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

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