Recently one of my international friends asked if he can find alcoholic beverages in Turkey and do predominantly Muslim Turkish people consume alcohol freely?
International friends of mine assume that there is no drinking habit in our culture because the majority of Turks are Muslim. Yet, besides being legal, alcoholic beverages are widely consumed by the Turkish People.
The Turkish word ‘drink’ means “içki” in the sense of alcoholic drinks. ‘İçki sofrası’ means “drinking table,” where people come together and drink alcohol served with ‘meze’ to accompany alcohol.
Especially in western Turkey and coastal areas, drinking is more common, and as usual, drinking tables create great conversations and pleasant moments in family or friend gatherings.
Do Turkish People Drink Alcohol? Here is the short answer.
According to OECD, Turkish people drink around 1.5 liters of alcohol per capita every year. Turkish people consume less alcohol than English, Americans, and Mexicans do. However, alcohol consumption is way higher compared to Islamic countries like Indonesia.
Here is the table which I directly embedded from the OECD Website.
Alcohol consumption increases in metropolitan areas and decreases in conservative rural areas. However, the least conservative and more modern Turkish west regions have significantly higher alcohol consumption per capita. Source.
If you want to know more about Turkish laws, culture, and history of alcohol consumption, please continue reading.
I believe this article will enhance your understanding of Turkish culture. There are many interesting facts most foreigners do not know about Turkey.
Alcohol Laws in Turkey
Drinking alcohol is legal in Turkey as long as you are above the legal age limit of 18. Since the foundation of the Turkish Republic, drinking alcohol has been free in Turkey.
Alcohol was banned only for a brief period before 1924, during the Turkish Independence War.
Drinking on beaches and public places is usually allowed in coastal tourist destinations. Yet, drinking on the streets of metropolitan cities is not allowed.
Legal Drinking Age in Turkey
One should be over 18 years old to buy and drink alcoholic products in Turkey. Additionally, alcoholic products cannot be served or be sold to anyone under 18 years old.
If you have your children with you, most pubs and restaurants will let you enter with your children. Yet, some entertainment facilities may not allow children.
Is Alcohol common in Turkey? Is it hard to buy Alcohol?
Alcohol is common in Turkey, and it is easy to buy. In most cities like Izmir, Istanbul, or holiday destinations, you can find a shop where you can purchase alcoholic drinks at every corner. Yet, in more conservative small cities and rural towns, you may have a hard time finding a shop that sells alcohol.
Due to low demand and religious reasons, some restaurants and bars may close during Ramadan.
Is Alcoholic Drink Freely Available in Turkey?
Alcohol is sold through licensed supermarkets, markets, or shops. However, you can only buy alcoholic products between 6 AM and 10 PM. In Turkey, you need to be more planned and buy your alcohol before 10 PM.
On the other hand, this ban only covers the buying of alcohol. You can still enjoy your drink in restaurants, bars, hotels, or any other licensed entertainment facility. These facilities can serve alcohol 24 hours a day without any restriction.
You can drink in public as long as you are in restaurants, bars, hotels, or any other licensed entertainment facility, but street drinking is uncommon.
What is the Turkish National Alcoholic Drink?
Turkish Raki is accepted as the National Turkish Alcoholic Drink.
Raki is an anise-flavored drink and can be classified as brandy with 40-45% alcohol. Rakı turns white when water is added. For this reason, it is also called Lion Milk.
Most known Rakı Brands in Turkey are Yeni Raki, Efe, Beylerbeyi, Tekirdag and Izmir. These brands produce many types of Raki and categorize them according to their distillation techniques. For new tasters, I would advise Beylerbeyi Blue, Tekirdag, or Efe Green (made with fresh grapes.). They have a smoother taste.
Raki is only drunk with special raki glasses. Check out these raki glasses on Amazon to see unique raki glasses.
Popular Alcoholic Brands and Drinks in Turkey
The most common alcoholic drinks in Turkey are Beer, Raki, Vodka, and wine.
According to Mey (the biggest alcohol producer in Turkey), 58% of Turkish people drink beer mostly, and 31% choose Raki as their main alcoholic drink. 5% of Turkish People drink vodka, and 2% drink wine. Source: Hürriyet Daily News
Rakı, or raki, is an alcoholic beverage made of distilled grapes and anise. It is often served with ‘meze’ in ‘içki sofrası’ accompanied by friends and family members. Toasting with raki in typical raki glasses is an essential part of a drink table.
Yeni Raki is the oldest raki brand in Turkey. Efe and Tekirdag raki brands are known for their quality raki brands. The other two most popular raki brands are Izmir and Beylerbeyi.
Beer is widely preferred among alcoholic drinks in our country. There are several national beer brands such as Efes Pilsen, Bomonti, and Marmara34.
Efes beers are the most popular Turkish beers. Turkish Efes is also Europe’s 5th and the world’s 10th largest brewer by production volume.
The biggest competitor to Efes is Tuborg (Danish beer). Tuborg is the second most consumed beer in Turkey. Efes and Tuborg are known for their quality.
The Turkish wine industry continues to grow amid low consumption. Yet, rising alcohol prices made wines a popular drink. Turkish wine consumption and production continue to increase every year.
There are many national wine brands such as Kavaklıdere, Doluca, Sevilen, Diren, and Kayra. The grapes for the red wine production grow mainly in the Marmara Region.
Do All Turkish People Drink Alcohol?
According to the Turkish Statistical Institute, 74% of Turkish people never consumed any alcoholic drink. In this research, only people bigger than 15 years old are taken into account.
The same research reveals %50 percent of Turkish men aged between 25-74 never consumed alcohol. Also, %90 percent of women aged between 25-74 never drank alcohol in their lifetime.
As a Turkish who lived mostly in the west part of Turkey, I could not believe the low numbers found by this research, and I did my own poll.
I went into Reddit and asked Turkish Redditors if they use alcohol or not. 570 Turkish Redditors answered my poll. Here are my results.
|What is the frequency you consume alcohol?||Votes||Percentage|
|2-3 times a week||25||4.5%|
|Once a week||39||7%|
|Once a month||135||24%|
|I never drink alcoholic beverages||346||60%|
Are Alcoholic Drinks expensive in Turkey?
Alcohol is getting more and more expensive every day due to increasing government taxes. A can of beer (half a liter or A pint) is 1,2 USD in Turkey.
When I first wrote this article, you could buy only 246 cans of beer with a standard worker’s monthly wage in 2020. Today, 2021 December, you can buy 201 cans of beer with a standard worker’s monthly wage.
Alcohol prices are also putting pressure on Turkish consumption of alcohol, yet it is still consumed by many.
Maybe you are also wondering if Turkish people are eating pork, for a comprehensive answer check my article “Eating and Finding Pork products in Turkey”.
History Turks and Their History of Alcohol Consumption
Ancient Times – Turkish Cultural Origins
Turkish culture is influenced by many cultures. In fact, Turkey is a melting pot of different European and Asian cultures. However, ancient Turkic culture’s influence is still deeper than the other cultural influences.
Turkic culture has its roots in Middle Asia. For this reason, the Turkish language and culture share common ancestry with Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Chinese Uiygurs, and other not independent Turkic Republics.
Even though Turks migrated to the west about one thousand years ago, Turkic people can still understand each other. For example, I can read Kazakh, Uzbek, or Turkmen newspapers and understand the subject easily.
Fun Fact: The Turkish Language also shares common ancestry and grammatical similarities with Hungarian, Finnish, Korean and Japanese languages. You can check my article on the Turkish Language and its Origins to know more about Turkish and Turkic Languages.
Turkish Alcohol Consumption in the Ancient Times
Now after the brief history part, I can tell you about the history of Turkish alcohol consumption.
As I said above, Turkish people are descendants of Turkic nomadic tribes who are indigenous people of Central Asia.
In ancient nomadic times, the Turkish people used to drink “Kımız” (Kumis in English), which can also be defined as milk wine. This fermented milk contains %1-%3 alcohol.
At that time, there was no age limit for drinking Kimiz and even newborns were fed with Kimiz. Kimiz was also accepted as a cure for many illnesses.
We also know that ancient Turkish people were also skilled in beer and winemaking.
Other descendants of Turkish people are the native people of Anatolia who were also fond of drinking. Most ancient Anatolian statutes carry wine cups in their hands rather than swords or any other weapon. (Source)
Islam and Turkish
The first reaction of Turkish people to Islam was fierce. There were many battles with Umayyad Caliphs who believed in Arab Supremacy. Turks converted to Islam when Abbasid Caliphs overthrew the Umayyad Caliphs.
The Turks converted to Islam only when the Caliphs accepted Turkish culture. This is the reason, Turkish people conserved their culture when they converted to Islam.
Unlike Turks, many other cultures that are native to the Middle East, like Egyptians, lost their cultural values when they accepted Islam and became Arab.
Like my high school teacher, many Turkish historians believe that Islam culture diminished some of the qualities of Turkish culture, like gender quality and alcohol consumption rate. Yet, Islam religion did not change the core of Turkish culture. For this reason, Turks are seen as light Muslims by Arabs.
SUGGESTED READING: Is Turkey an Arab Country?
Ottomans and Alcohol Bans
In the early years of the Ottoman Empire, there was no alcohol ban. It was common for Sultans to drink alcohol even though they carry the title “Caliph.”
HISTORIC FACT As the Pope holds the authority to lead the Catholic world. Turkish Sultans had the title Caliph, which means they were the spirutual head of Islam.
Turkish sultans inherited the title of Caliph after they conquered Egypt in 1517.
However, at the beginning of the 20th century, the Caliph title was seen as an obstacle against secularism and was abolished after the founding of the Turkish Republic.
There were some instances of alcohol bans in the middle and late eras of the Ottoman Empire, but they were short-lived and mostly practiced in Istanbul rather than throughout the Empire. The alcohol bans were not effective as it was only mandatory for Muslim citizens.
However, the bans on Muslim society had no chance to succeed, because non-Muslim societies living together with Muslims, were consuming alcohol freely.
To understand Turkey’s differences with other Muslim countries you may want to read, my article “Why is Turkey a First World Country?”
After the Turkish Independence Wars
Only one time in history, in 1920, the modern Turkish Republic accepted a law banning alcoholic drinks. It was the time of the Turkish Independence war.
Coincidentally, the USA accepted the alcohol ban during the same years.
Even during the alcohol ban, it was no secret that the taverns in the capital city of Ankara continued operating. Many government officials, including Turkey’s founding father, Ataturk, also continued drinking alcohol in this period. This not strongly enforced alcohol ban was lifted in Turkey in April 1924.
After 1924, alcohol and alcohol consumption has always been free in Turkey.