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The Expat’s Guide to Drinking in Abu Dhabi

So, you are moving to Abu Dhabi!

When you move to the UAE capital, there are some things you should know—from the rules and regulations, to memorising the local non-alcoholic drinks to taste and the importance of stocking up from the best online liquor store in Abu Dhabi—read on for the expat’s guide to drinking in Abu Dhabi.

1. Understand the rules and regulations about alcohol.

It is a common misconception that no alcohol is allowed to be consumed in Abu Dhabi.

The truth is that even though the UAE operates under Sharia law, as an expat (or tourist), you aren’t entirely banned from drinking in the country. However, the public consumption of alcohol is forbidden, which means that restaurants, bars, and cafés require a special license to be able to serve alcohol. For this reason, expats and travellers to Abu Dhabi need to choose special places that serve alcohol if they want to drink outside their home.

After spending a day at work or under the desert sun, most expats opt to drink in hotel bars or lounges, as these are fantastic places for legally consuming alcohol and meeting other people.

Some of the most popular locations include the Shangri-La, Qaryat Al Beri; Stars’ N’ Bars Abu Dhabi; Cipriani Yas Marina; Asia de Cuba; Belgian Cafe; and the Hidden Bar at the Rosewood Hotel.

To purchase alcohol, you must be at least 21 years of age and only be buying for personal use and not for resale. Alcohol that is bought can only be consumed in private residences or licensed areas.

Additionally, drinking or being drunk in public is illegal, so you want to ensure you remain on your best behaviour if you decide to consume a beverage. Moreover, driving with any amount of alcohol in your system is illegal, and the penalties are significant, so there is no point in taking a chance.

2. Indulge your palate with local (non-alcoholic) beverages.

In many cases, expats in Abu Dhabi often prefer to drink local beverages when they are out and about and then save the alcohol for when they are at home. After all, not only are these local drinks delicious (and very refreshing), but they also play a significant role in Emirati culture.

This means drinking gahwa (Arabic coffee) that is the standard welcome drink in the country. In fact, whenever you go to an Emirati household, you will likely be offered a cup of this traditional beverage. Brewed in a “dallah” (a beautiful coffee pot), gahwa is usually served in small cups and accompanied with dates.

Another popular traditional drink is sulaimani, which is a mint and lemon tea. Often drunk after a large meal, it comprises loose tea, cardamom, lemon and mint leaves that are all brewed to a beautiful, golden brown colour and tastes sweet and tangy. This drink will then be served in a clear glass with a mint leaf floating on top.

Jallab is the ideal drink for a scorching hot Abu Dhabi day! Made from grape molasses, dates and rose water, this fruit syrup is diluted with water before being garnished with crushed ice, pine nuts and golden raisins. It is commonly drunk during Ramadan as it helps Muslims stay hydrated throughout the day while they are fasting.

Finally, the yoghurt-based drink laban is another popular local option. Drunk by adults and children alike, this drink helps locals (and expats!) stay cool when the desert heat gets a little overwhelming.

When you consume this cold drink, your body not only cools down, but your immune system is boosted thanks to all the calcium, proteins and vitamins that are included. Laban can be found at supermarkets (and restaurants) across Abu Dhabi, and it can very quickly become your go-to non-alcoholic drink for the summer.

3. Make sure you have your home bar stocked.

At the end of the day, no matter where you live, it is always a good idea to have your home bar stocked—that way, you can indulge in your favourite cocktail or have your friends over for a tasting whenever you feel like it!

When it comes to stocking your home bar, you want to ensure that you have all the essential liquors, including bourbon, gin, rum, tequila, vodka, and whiskey.

While your liquor collection should be tailored to your personal taste, you still want to have most of these classic liquors as they are the base for the majority of cocktail recipes. That being said, don’t feel like you have to purchase them all at once—you can curate your bar cart over time!

Additionally, liqueurs are another bar cart essential as they add so much excitement to cocktail recipes. Some of the most popular liqueurs include:

  • Amaretto – a sweet, almond-flavoured Italian liqueur
  • Coffee liqueur – a coffee flavoured liqueur
  • Crème de cacao/menthe – chocolate or mint flavored liqueurs
  • Chambord – a raspberry-flavoured brand of liqueur
  • Orange liqueur (cointreau, triple sec) – orange flavored liqueurs
  • Germain elderflower liqueur – a liqueur flavoured with elderflowers
  • Dry/sweet vermouth – herb-flavoured wine

In many cases, you will also want to include a mixer in your cocktail to enhance beverage volume and flavour.

Some of the most popular mixes include juices (cranberry, grapefruit, lemon, orange, tomato); sodas (club soda, coke, ginger ale, tonic); and mixers (bitters, coffee, grenadine, simple syrup, hot sauce). You may also want to purchase some pre-bottled mixes (such as a bloody mary, margarita, or pina colada) if you are looking to make particular drinks.

And you don’t want to forget the garnishes!

These are the delightful last touches that take your drinks to the next level and include lemons, limes, oranges; sugar cubes; olives; maraschino cherries; and herbs and flowers like rosemary, sage and thyme.

Are you currently an expat in Abu Dhabi? If so, what additional tips and insights do you have to add to this list? What do you wish you would have known before you moved there?

Alternatively, if you are considering moving to Abu Dhabi soon, what questions do you have about drinking or other aspects of social life?

Let us know in the comments below!

AUTHOR BIO

Valentina Chessa is the Retail Marketing Manager at African + Eastern, the largest alcohol retailer in the Middle East with a network of 29 stores in the UAE, 5 in Oman, and a team of over 400 professional staff. The company boasts an extensive portfolio of beer, wine and spirits, and customers can shop online or at one of its conveniently located stores.

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