Amid Covid19 Alcohol Ban, Sri Lankans Are Brewing Moonshine
Last month, in the wake of the global Covid19 pandemic, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa imposed a nationwide lockdown. But, with a blanket ban on the manufacture and sale of liquor across the island, illicit distilleries are cropping up across the country to cater to people’s alcohol needs.
The moment the ban was announced, crowds thronged liquor shops across Sri Lanka. In the days following the lockdown, people continued to order liquor through home delivery. However, at the end of March, the authorities banned home delivery of alcohol, which in turn, meant that black market sales proliferated unchecked — making alcohol unaffordable for most.
Sri Lankans are now increasingly resorting to illicit liquor, or home-brewed moonshine. Supermarkets and online retailers that have been allowed to operate amid the lockdown have reported an unusual spike in sugar sales, which is used as a key ingredient in the manufacture of illegal spirits. The sale of cooking-gas canisters have also shot up as people are beginning to home-brew.
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“The demand is such that alcohol is sold at four times the normal price. We are deploying our units to help excise officials to carry out raids during the curfew,” a police official said. The police set up special units to hunt for moonshine distilleries, on April 13, they arrested two men who were brewing 36 barrels worth of illicit liquor.
“Given Sri Lanka’s consumption pattern, there is a big demand that is not met by any legal sources right now. We know that people have set up small units to distill spirits in their own kitchens. They are using Grade Six science knowledge to manufacture alcohol at home. We can’t very well go house to house, raiding kitchens (sic),” Kapila Kumarasinghe, Deputy Commissioner of Excise in Sri Lanka, told The Economist.
The authorities are finding it challenging to keep home-brewing in check. While the government has sought help from telecom regulators to prevent YouTube tutorials and recipe-sharing on social media, the police is planning to prosecute anyone that promotes brewing moonshine at home.