9 September 2012

Ethiopia: Liquor Shortage Dampens New Year Festivities

Affected by scarcity of locally made liquor, a crowd gathers outside the National Alcohol and Liquor Factory located Dej. Welde Mikael Street waiting their turn to purchase a bottle of their favorite brand as the Ethiopian New Year approaches.

Sinkinesh Tela, 43, owner of a grocery, a small liquor joint, was waiting impatiently in a long line in front of the shop of the National Alcohol and Liquor factory on Dej. Welde Mikael Street on Thursday, September 6, 2012, for her turn to buy.

She wanted to be ready for her customers who would visit her grocery that evening, but with the long line in front of her, she was not sure she would get what she wanted.

Liquor distillers in Ethiopia include Asnake Alcohol Drink Industry, Balezaf Alcohol & Liquor Factory Plc, ERIGB International Plc, National Alcohol & Liquor Factory.

Wondesen Zewdu, 31, started decorating his grocery in Adama town (Nazareth) for the New Year eve days earlier. For the past two months he has been getting fewer bottles than he wanted at the higher price.

"My customers really prefer Bherawi [National] liquor but it is a very unpleasant moment for me to wait for my customers without it," he said.

The 64-year old Hailu Berhanu and his friends met at least three times a week at Josy Grocery along Djibouti Street around Chechenya in Addis Abeba. Now not everyone of the group is coming, says Hailu.

"We are not getting our usual drink," he said.

National lines of liquors include Baro Gin, Ouzo, Double Ouzo, Fernit, and Bitter.

"I bought 288 bottles before 21 days ago, but now I could not get more than 48 bottles," said Yosef, a waiter at Wondosen's gocery who also doubles the responsibility of procurement.

Two months ago, they used to buy liquors from Balezaf at 38 Br a bottle; now that has gone up to 44 Br. Bherawi's liquors, which they used to buy at 44 Br a bottle, have now gone up to 50 Br, Yosef said as he ran around in the busy grocery.

The National Alcohol & Liquor factory, which believes that the shortage is more due to increased demand than decrease in supply, planned to produce 4.2 million liters of liquor in 2011/12 but went on to actually produce 5.6 million, according to Kokebe Qumbi, marketing head of the National factory.

"I don't know what to do," wonders Sinknesh, lacking with an important element of holiday festivities.

She came all the way to the national store around Mexico Square because the usual store that distributed to bars and groceries in Akaki Kaliti district did not have enough stock. She still remembers the customers that filled her store for the past two New Year celebrations, and she wants to have that again. She would be able to get some from the store, but now she is not sure how many bottles she would get.

The liquor factories rely on molasses supply from Wenji, Metehara and Fincha sugar factories, but these factories are now using the molasses mostly for ethanol production, which is mixed with benzene.

Balezaf says it has been badly affected by the molasses shortage. With a 20,000lt daily capacity, it produces Uzo Gin, Supermint, and Aperitif. It had been producing at 30pc of its capacity since February 2012, according to Belay Tekle, general manager of the factory, who adds that since July production has come down even lower to 10pc.

But Yilma Tibebu, the Sugar Corporation's public relations officer, says that the sugar corporation is providing the factories with rectified spirit, a highly concentrated ethanol, to make up for the lost molasses. But Belay is not happy because the rectified spirit needed to be redistilled.

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