Alcohol of Turkestan

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Domestically-produced alcoholic beverages of Turkestan typically fall into one of two categories. The first are the imports: beverages introduced by immigrant communities, typically Russians. The second category are the native drinks: those that have been produced and consumed in Central Asia since time immemorial.



Beer was introduced by Russian and Eastern European immigrants during the Tsarist period. It is difficult to produce in quantity in much of Turkestan, due to the unsuitability of the climate for growing hops.

Most of the local beers are produced in a band stretching from southwestern Qazaqstan through Kırğızstan to western Tajikistan. Some of the more popular beers include:

  • Erjürek: a strong, dark reddish beer with a high alcohol content. Brewed in Qazaqstan.
  • Qoņır Şan: a golden-brown beer brewed in eastern Kırğızstan.
  • Qoçqar: a pale golden wheat beer from western Kırğızstan.
  • Arğaı: a dark wheat beer from the Samarqand-Şahrısabz area of Tajikistan.


Wines from Turkestan are often very heavy, almost syrupy affairs rejected by most foreign wine connoisseurs as "not worth the effort of bottling". Within Turkestan, however, these heavier, stronger wines are preferred, and most foreign wines, particularly those of French origin, are considered astringent. Popular wines include the following:

  • Altun Farğana is perhaps the most popular wine in Turkestan. It is notable for its golden-orange colour, and is very heavy and quite strong. Altun Farğana is an incredibly sweet wine, rivalling some of the vins engelé of New Francy.
  • Qızıl Farğana is not as sweet as Altun Farğana, but is just as strong and heavy. It is a red wine with a vivid colour that makes it the preferred choice for many Turkestani Assyrians as eucharistic wine. Both the Altun and Qızıl Farğana wines are produced in the upper Farğana valley of Üzbekistan.
  • Jeleke is a wine produced mainly by Ugyurs in the Qaşgar area. It is a reddish wine, lighter in colour and sweeter and heavier than Mıhran, though not as heavy as Qızıl Farğana.
  • Mıhran is a dark red wine comparable to a heavy Shiraz, produced in the border region around Tärmäz.
  • Zoraı is a white wine, not quite as heavy as many of the typical Turkestani wines, and generally preferred as an accompaniment to the lighter courses of a full meal.


Turkestani hard spirits generally fall into the vodka group, distilled from grain such as rye or wheat. Brandy-related distilled wines, known as Qızıl Araq, are also known, but not nearly as common. Vodka (Su Araq, or just Araq) was introduced by the Russians in the Tsarist period, and is drunk neat. Those who drink araq tend to do so in quantity, but by and large, Turkestanis prefer other types of alcoholic drink, especially qımız (see below).

Qımız and Şubat

The most common and popular forms of alcohol in Turkestan, particularly among nomads, have nothing to do with the growing of grapes or grain or any other vegetable crop. Qımız and şubat are actually fermented milk, coming from horses and camels respectively, and are consumed in large quantities in Turkestan, Qazaqstan and Mongolia.

  • Qımız (sometimes "Kumiss") is mare's milk that has naturally fermented. It has a thin, skimmed milk consistency and a smoky, sourish flavour, and is often very slightly sparkling. Most foreigners and immigrants to Turkestan find qımız to be unappealing at best, but it is loved by its devotees with a passion the French reserve for cheese and wine.
Qımız traditionally comes in leather bottles, though glass is actually more common in modern Turkestan, and varies considerably in flavour and alcohol content depending on its age (older qımız is stronger), the season (the first "New Qımız" of early May is considered the best), what the horses have been eating, how much the horses have been exercised, and to an extent, the soil type and weather where and when it was produced.
In the first week of May (further south in Turkestan, the last week of April), the "New Qımız" arrives, and every able devotee of qımız is likely to want to return to their ancestral village and get a supply of their home qımız. Qımız is readily available in the cities, and traders from the local villages will come and set up temporary qımızhanas ("qımız houses") on the streets, and sell their wares. Everyone prefers their home village's qımız, though, and it is a known "fact" that the qımız in these places is of lesser quality. After all, who would sell their best and willingly drink inferior qımız? Permanent qımızhanas are also found in all cities and towns of Turkestan, and serve as places to meet and drink.
  • Şubat is similar to qımız, but comes from a camel, not a horse. It has a creamier texture and richer flavour than qımız, and is preferred by most Turcomans. It is sold in qımızhanas alongside the qımız; there are no separate şubathanas.
The şubat season is a little later than the qımız season, beginning in mid-May with the "New Şubat". Like qımız, it is traditionally kept in leather bottles, but is more commonly found in glass ones.
Both qımız and şubat are served in bowls.
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