Buying alcohol in the UAE can be…interesting.
Despite a popular misconception that you can’t drink here (only Sharjah bans booze completely) there’s actually a surprisingly good selection of wine, beer and spirits on offer in the UAE. Getting it, however, is a different matter, with each of the Emirates sporting different rules, requirements and alcohol tax rates, many of which can be surprising to the uninitiated.
So with that in mind, here’s the Tasting Class’ guide on where to buy alcohol in the UAE.
At the airport
Visitors to the UAE can’t buy bottles in retail stores or apply for a liquor license, and to organise a decent booze run won't likely fit in with holiday plans, so buying at the airport is a convenient way to get started. There are two places of interest at Dubai airport in particular, Dubai Duty-Free and Le Clos, with the latter specialising in fine wines that would give a top London cellar a run for its money and allegedly selling more premium whiskey than anywhere else on Earth. Visitors to Dubai can bring up to five litres of alcohol into the country, and we wholeheartedly recommend that you do, as things get a whole lot more complicated once you’re inside.
Under Dubai law you need a license to store booze in your home, however, once you have one you can purchase alcohol from two companies - African +Eastern and MMI, both of which stock predominantly large, global brands. Worth noting is that an alcohol license also limits how much you can spend on booze per month - which could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your intake.
Like Dubai, Abu Dhabi also requires a license to buy alcohol, but has more than two retailers to choose from. Amongst them, Grey & Mackenzie stock a thoughtful portfolio including some off-the-beaten-track wines, whilst certain Spinney’s grocery stores also have an alcohol section. Weirdly, Euro Star Cellars is technically in Abu Dhabi, though they’re actually located on the outskirts of Dubai. The selection there is pretty basic but until recently Abu Dhabi had a substantially lower alcohol tax making it cheaper to shop there, however from July 2018 both cities have aligned.
Umm al-Quwain is home to the Barracuda Beach Club, which has an onsite liquor store that offers more than three thousand different products that change all the time, making it a popular place to stock up on a booze run. Like Ras al-Khaimah, Ajman and Fujairah, the alcohol laws in Umm al-Quwainare also more relaxed, with no license required, less tax, and most importantly, no cap on how much you can spend. For wine lovers, there are even qualified sommeliers on hand to advise.
The smallest of the seven emirates actually has a few stores serving alcohol, including the ‘Hole in the Wall,’ which is often described as having closed, but never actually seems to. Of that list, Oscarsis well stocked with spirits, but limited in its wine and beer, however, there are also several branches of the pretty decent Unisat Liquor on hand to choose from.
As well as nice beaches, Fujairah also offers ‘The Cellars’, a store with a similar, if not more robust, selection of wine, whisky and beer than their sister branch in Ras al-Khaimah. It’s also the go-to spot in the country if you love Belgian or American craft beers.
There are three stores of note in Ras al-Khaimah. Al Hamra Cellars has an excellent selection, which is unsurprising as its sister company is Le Clos at Dubai airport, with prices that are surprisingly good. The Cellars meanwhile is owned by the same people as African + Eastern, with a good selection of wine and a pretty decent list of whisky and beer. Finally, there’s Centaurus, a smaller store with lots of big names on offer and some enjoyably random options, who also add a personal touch to their service.
Once a month The Tasting Class organises a themed wine tasting challenge where we get to taste 6 different wines blind. This social outing is a fun way to try wines from all over the world. Interested in joining? Have a look here at the next wine tasting challenge.