Desperate Times: a cocktail born of necessity

No booze in Bangladesh, 2015

I cast my mind back to dry time: 2015, a year of no booze, yet lots of booze.  It is possible to source alcohol in Bangladesh: it is not easy, it requires connections, and a slight work around of the law. In essentially a dry country, many become excellent networkers and creative problem solvers. This was the birth of what would years later become the Desperate Times cocktail.

Approach 1: the US military commissary

There is a large US military presence in Bangladesh, which means lots of American soldiers.  These soldiers have access to the mythical commissary – it’s essentially a supermarket for Team America, of Team America, and only accessible by Team America  – yes, the army supermarket has booze. For a civilian to access this hoard of goodness, one must first befriend American soldiers, provide them with a shopping list and cross your fingers.

Approach 2: friends and aeroplanes

There is a loophole: duty free. Fly to Kolkata (Calcutta), have a lovely weekend, fly back with a few bottles of ‘water’ in your pack and two precious precious bottles of Indian duty free. Happy days. I had one very obliging consultant based in Istanbul who did regular site visits to Dhaka. As soon as he was aware of the precarious alcohol situation, this excellent man would disembark in Dhaka bearing gifts of the fancy gin and scotch variety. He was my absolute favourite.

Approach 3: embassy and expatriate clubs

On first hearing about the expatriate clubs in Dhaka, I was horrified by their exclusivity, colonialism and deep racism – I declined joining on principle. Two weeks later I had acknowledged the necessity of club membership, and coughed up the fee with a copy of my passport to the only club that would have me. Obtaining membership to a club is dependent on one’s nationality and purpose in Dhaka, and can be challenging.  Armed with membership to a club with reciprocal arrangements with clubs I’d actually frequent, I had a ticket to boozy opulent parties behind huge walls and intricate security protocols. It was a game changer. It was my key to an exclusive expat bubble. Excuse me as I take a sip of my elitist gin and tonic with a side of guilt and privilege.

I have it on good authority that Dhaka has changed rapidly since 2015, to the point that there are now two actual bars – I trust my sources, but find it hard to compute.

The Great Tonic Water Drought of 2018, Dili, Timor-Leste

It hit us hard, it hit us where it hurt.  Months and months of no tonic or soda water, in a town that ran on sweat, gin and tonics, and things mixed with soda.  Unfounded rumors of a shipping container on the wharf filled with precious cans filled us with hope and then broke our hearts.

Desperate times, indeed.

With no mixers in the country, I cast my mind back to desperate times of days past, and revive the Dhaka tea.

And so here it is: the Desperate Times Cocktail

Brew your tea, and brew it good. Let it cool if time permits, then mix with gin, or scotch, or vodka, or that can of pineapple you have fermenting in the windowsill.

A regular tea-bag will do, or lift your game and get ready to pair earl grey with Bombay Sapphire.

Next level is sugar syrup, slices of lemon, or crushed fresh mint.

Combos that I’ve found palatable:

  • Earl grey with aromatic gins, a twist of lemon and sugar syrup
  • scotch, builders tea, and honey
  • vodka and anything
  • mint tea and rum
  • super sweet iced lemon vodka tea

Drink hot or iced, depending on climate.



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