Do you love an ice cold bottle of beer or a glass of wine? No, I’m not going to tell you to stop! In fact I’m most likely the one urging you to have another glass. Just don’t drink the same thing on vacation that you would be at home — try something new! Like perhaps these amazing traditional alcoholic beverages that I have found in countries all over the world…
Oh the stories I could tell of all the crazy local brews I’ve drank with locals around the world…
Here are some “new” old traditional alcoholic beverages to try on your next vacation:
Made of potato mash plus herbs and nicknamed Black Death, Brennivín is the national drink of Iceland. Sounds great, right? It gets better. Brennivín is served chilled in shot form and best accompanied by hákarl (fermented shark), the national food of Iceland — and what Anthony Bourdain described as “the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing” that he has ever eaten anywhere in the world.
See Drink More Unique types of alcohol only found in Iceland
Arak is the traditional beverage of Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Israel and Turkey. The word ‘arak’ means sweat in Arabic. Don’t turn away from this alcoholic drink assuming it to be someone’s sweat though. The drink is anise-flavored and diluted with water for consumption. The liquor is clear but upon dilution with water, it becomes milky. This is because anethole, the essential oil in anise, is insoluble in water. Adding ice causes the arak to form an unpleasant layer on the surface. If you order a bottle of arak, the waiter will usually serve it with several glasses as one does not drink arak in the same glass again due to the emulsification of the liquid. Arak is usually served with appetizers.
If you visit Greece, you must certainly try out their coffee and frappé. However do not forget to try out ouzo, the essentially Greek drink, along with a platter of olives, fries, fish and cheese. You will find it tastes of licorice and is smoother than absinthe. Ouzo is generally flavored with anise or mint or coriander. Like arak, ouzo also becomes milky when mixed with water. For the same reason, adding ice to the drink is avoided. The Greeks use ouzo in many recipes and consider it to have healing properties due to the presence of anise.
Sound strange? Just go for it! 😉
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Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire)
It’s a common dilemma for the poor, hard-drinking man: spend your limited funds on medicine or get drunk to disguise the symptoms? However, in West Africa they have found a unique solution – make booze into medicine. In the Ivory Coast it all starts with the basic ingredient of palm wine or Banji as its known. Sap from certain varieties of palm is tapped off every day from the living trees to be delivered to the thirsty, although it can also be extracted from the felled trunks. From this point it is a trade-off between taste and alcohol content: when fresh it is a pleasant, mildly alcoholic beverage but over time it ferments, becoming more alcoholic but less and less palatable to all but the hardened street drinker by the next day…
Banji quote and photo from Graham’s entertaining post on drinking at the doctors in the Ivory Coast
This is Brazil’s national beverage. According to a survey, Brazil produces over a billion litres of cachaça annually but only 1% of it is exported. Fresh sugarcane juice is fermented and then distilled to make cachaça. Some types of rums are also made in the same way which is why cachaça is also referred to as Brazilian rum. The liquor may be consumed either aged or un-aged. Un-aged cachaça will come cheaper but do look for the dark and premium variety that is aged in wooden barrels. Caipirinha is a popular cocktail that includes cachaça as the main ingredient.
Sake, a wine made of rice, is a traditional Japanese alcoholic beverage. The rice used to make sake differs from the normal rice that the Japanese eat. Sake comes in several varieties which are served at a range of temperatures. Though sake goes best with Japanese cuisine, you can enjoy the beverage with Chinese food too. Food that is flavored with herbs will also work well.
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This Mexican distilled alcoholic beverage is much like tequila’s cousin as they are both made from (different types of) agave plants. Mezcal is made from the maguey plant while tequila is made from the blue agave plant. Most of the mezcal produced by Mexico is made in a region called Oaxaca. A popular saying that you might get to hear is ‘Para todo mal, mezcal, y para todo bien también’ which translates to: “For everything bad, mezcal, and for everything good, the same.”
The drink might not seem inviting if you see larva in a bottle of mezcal, but many alcohol makers have embraced this age-old technique now. You can find mezcal without the larva too. You can relish it with sliced oranges dusted with ground chili, fried larvae and salt.
Don’t forget to purchase a bottle or two as a souvenir if you really fall in love with the taste of any of these drinks. That way you will have a tale to tell your friends over a round of drinks too 😉