This phrase may soon be spoken by local Muslim men (or women, for that matter) without much apprehension, in the same league of that other popular sentence, `Jom kita pekena teh tarik.'
Alcohol-free beer from Iran is now available in Malaysia. The beer is called Istak and is brewed from the same grains (barley and malt) as normal beer except that there is no alcohol content because of no fermentation, or so it seems.
Yesterday's Harian Metro carried a report quoting En. Azizi Ahmad, the Executive Director of Malaysia Iran Corporation (the sole importer), that Muslims need not doubt the `halal-ness' of the drink. Apparently, some quarters of the general public have reservations on the legality of the drink from the Islamic standpoint because of the word `beer'. The controversy boils down to whether `no alcohol content' equates to `halal'. Read the full newspaper report -> here.
Looks like En. Azizi is facing his biggest challenge in marketing his product here in Malaysia... and that is the problem of perception. To many people, beer is an alcoholic product. It is part of a group of beverages that Muslims are prohibited from drinking. Even though it is alcohol-free, Istak is sold in bottles that look like any other normal beer bottle. Even the liquid looks like ordinary beer. So you cannot fault the average Muslim citizen to be a bit skeptical. The fact that it is manufactured in Iran, a very conservative Muslim country, does not help allay this doubt.
Alcohol-free beer has been around for a long time. I still remember a TV advertisement of such a drink when I was studying in the UK in the early eighties. Barbican - the alcohol-free lager, was the drink's name. But having doubts about Barbican is understandable. It is brewed in a normal brewery in England. And it is not targetted at the Muslim consumer anyway. Similarly, Guinness produces a malt drink with zero-alcohol content called Malta. It is not a popular drink among Muslims because it still carries the Guinness mark.
My next encounter with alcohol-free beer was in Cairo some years ago. Our Egyptian host took us out for dinner in one of those lovely floating restaurants that sail along the Nile River. For his drink, our host ordered something that came in a can that looked strikingly like beer. When he popped the can and poured the contents in a glass, it sure looked like beer, complete with froth. I was a bit surprised at first but later found out that it is a no-alcohol beer that is very popular in Egypt.
When I was posted in the United Arab Emirates, similar alcohol-free beer is sold widely in the supermarkets. It even occurred to me that if I could bring some of these drinks into Malaysia, I could probably make a fortune. That is, if I can surmount this perception problem. If you can recall, A & W had this same problem when they first introduced root beer.
The next question that comes to mind is probably, `How does it taste?'
Personally, I wouldn't know. I have not drank any beer, whether pseudo or the real thing. But according to some friends who have, the pseudo beer tastes nothing like the real one.
Who are the people who would want to buy and drink alcohol-free beer anyway? Muslims who have the hidden desire to drink beer but dare not cross the line by taking the real thing?
In the end, it all comes down to personal choice. We'll soon see if Istak becomes a popular drink in Malaysia.
Right... I'm knocking off from work now and would be meeting some friends for a drink. Perhaps I'll have a beer. Cheers!