The ban on alcohol sales was supposed to curb covid-19“DATES, JAGGERY?” asked the grocer, offering the main ingredients for brewing palm wine. His c
“DATES, JAGGERY?” asked the grocer, offering the main ingredients for brewing palm wine. His customer bought both, tucking them away with his onions and lentils before disappearing down a narrow lane in a suburb of Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital.
On March 21st the government closed all bars and liquor shops as part of a series of restrictions to curb the spread of covid-19. The intention, it said, was to prevent “drink parties” at which the virus might spread and to reduce unnecessary shopping trips. Small wonder: when the government first began introducing countrywide measures to slow the spread of the disease, “wine shops”—ubiquitous small stores selling mainly beer and liquor—were mobbed (social distancing be damned) by customers frantically stocking up.
Since then, booze has been hard to get hold of. Supermarkets remain open, but few have a licence to sell alcohol. For a time, enterprising distributors arranged home deliveries, until the authorities made it clear that these were also banned. A black market sprang up, but sellers were hard to find and prices prohibitive. Bottles of “gal”, which is distilled from coconut-palm sap, were selling for almost three times its normal price of about 1,850 rupees ($9.75).
The obvious solution, although an illegal one, was home-brewing. Sri Lankans desperate for a tipple…