Despite Strict Prohibitions, Iranians Still Able to Get Drunk
Alcohol has been illegal in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution, but underground parties and distilleries still thrive nonetheless.
Alcohol is illegal in Iran, but you wouldn't know it looking at the wealthy party scene.
“Have a shot of tequila first, cheer up!” Shahriyar said to his party guests. His girlfriend, Shima, has claimed they party every weekend. “Shahriyar has one rule: bring your booze! We drink until morning."
Because it is a Shia-dominated state, Iran has no nightclubs or bars; any place even suspected of having alcohol is raided by police. Instead, all the booze-drinking and partying occurs right in people's homes. While some alcohol is smuggled from the outside, with most coming in from Iraqi Kurdistan, many have chosen to make their own alcohol for themselves or to sell it underground.
“My friends and I routinely gather to stamp down on grapes in my bathtub,” said Hesam, a 28-year-old music teacher in Tehran. “It’s fun, a cleansing ritual almost.”
Only members of minority religious groups - namely Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians - can legally brew alcohol and drink it in their own homes. Any sale of homemade booze is strictly forbidden.
The source of most home-brewed liquor in Iran is the Armenian community, which specializes in a sun-dried grape vodka. Some brewers even provide discreet delivery services, so you can get homemade beer, wine, or moonshine without risking being caught with a distillery in your home.
“You don’t even need to leave the house,” said Reza, a computer engineer. “Nasser, the brewer, will deliver it to your door.”
Underground alcohol use is so prevalent that it has become problematic. There are an estimated 200,000 alcoholics in Iran - though that state-issued number has been disputed by outside observers - and a permit for the country's first alcohol rehab center was quietly issued in September 2013.
“The center was set up in Tehran to help our citizens. You cannot resolve the problem by ignoring it,” a health ministry official said, refusing to reveal how many patients or even where the center is located.
Even home-brewed alcohol has been a problem for Iran. Improperly distilled booze can contain methanol, which can cause blindness or death. But neither poisoning nor police will stop Iranians from getting their drink on.
“By drinking we forget about our problems,” Shahriyar said. “Otherwise we will go crazy with all the limitations on young people in Iran."