Turkey’s national booze under government siege
Despite its status as a national drink, raki is becoming increasingly out of reach for the ordinary Turk. The ruling Justice and Development Party, which promotes piety and a conservative way of life, has actively sought to discourage alcohol consumption, raining down taxes on booze, especially raki.
True to form, the government raised liquor taxes at the beginning of the year, but this time went a step further, introducing a new regulation to trammel the home brewing of raki, which has flourished over the past several years in response to the soaring prices. From 2003 to 2016, overall consumer prices in Turkey increased 181%, while the price of raki shot up 500%.
In 2016, formal raki sales in Turkey fell to 35.4 million liters per year, down from 48.8 million liters in 2011, which was a record year. No doubt, the decrease did not mean that Turks had suddenly decided to abstain. Formal sales were down because of the flurry of price hikes, but home brewing was booming. Retired people, in particular, have taken on the endeavor as a hobby, with aspirants exchanging know-how and experience on the internet. The home production of wine and beer has also proliferated, driven by a similar spike in market prices.
It should come as no surprise if the raki interventions intensify in the coming period. The home brewing of wine, beer and other fermented spirits is legally allowed, subject to a 350-liter limit per year, but the individual production of distilled spirits such as raki, whiskey and vodka remains illicit. Home brewers of raki risk fines and even prison sentences, yet with a critical election cycle looming next year, Ankara — for now — refrains from brandishing the threat of penalties.