Everyone knows one of the best parts of travel is FOOD. But let’s not forget about all the unique alcohol around the world as well.
It doesn’t matter what country you’re in, odds are they have their own mouthwatering specialty dishes that you can’t get anywhere else. This goes for alcohol as well. I (like most travelers) enjoy a cocktail or two (or 10) while vacationing but did you know that instead of opting for your go-to gin/tonic or margarita you could be sipping local spirits instead?
Some drinks are now popular pretty much worldwide, think Spanish Sangria or Aperol from France. But some remain a secret and in a few cases, the only place you can taste them is their country of origin. So after much “research”, these are the best local spirits to try while you’re abroad!
Iceland – Brennivin
This clear schnapps is known locally as “Black Death” or “Burning Wine” but don’t let that scare you away! It goes down smooth and is most commonly drank as a chilled shot. Traditionally it was used to wash down a plate of fermented shark (an Icelandic delicacy), I’m assuming the strong black licorice flavor (from caraway seeds) was probably the only thing that could overpower rotting fishy taste.
Drinking in Iceland isn’t for the budget conscious (worried about budgeting your trip?) A single shot of Brennivin (the cheapest spirit) will run you about 15 USD in a dive bar. Cocktails of any kind are around 20-25USD so most locals opt to buy alcohol by the bottle at the airport or local liquor store instead.
Served as a shot or sipping liqour but if you want to make a cocktail out of it its best to go simple…
2 oz. Brennivin
1 oz. Chambord
1 oz. Lime juice
Top with soda water
Garnish with a sprig of mint and slice of grapefruit.
Cuba – Guayabita Del Pinar (Guava Rum)
We all know Cuba is famous for Rum. Pina Coladas, Mojitos, and Rum & Cola are EVERYWHERE. Havana is packed full of lively bars all claiming to have the very best Mojito in Cuba but the most interesting beverage I had in Cuba was in the Pinar Del Rio region.
Guayabita literally means little guava and that pretty much sums it up. This sweet and strong dark sipping rum is infused with teeny tiny blueberry sized guava that grows in the region. The sweetness of the guava makes this the easiest sipping rum I’ve ever tasted, no mixing needed.
You can find a bottle for around 20 USD in the Pinar del Rio or Vinales regions of Cuba (a must see for those interested in the tobacco farms). Fun Fact: There are more than 100 species of Guava ranging in color (from yellow to pink) and in size (like the small blueberry size in Cuba). One cocktail in Cuba stands above the rest for me. Created in the small town of Trinidad the Canchánchara is a Cuban staple. The problem is…you can’t properly make it anywhere else.
The secret is in the Cuban honey. It’s raw unfiltered and much sweeter than the honey we get here in the states.
2 oz Cuban Rum
.75 oz Lime Juice
.75 oz Fresh Cuban Honey
Served in a small clay pot over ice
Thailand – Lao Khao
Fermented sticky rice turned whiskey. The kind Anthony Bourdain famously binge drank during his Parts Unknown-Thailand episode. This rocket fuel will get you drunk if that’s your motive. As far as flavor goes it leaves some to be desired to put it nicely. It tastes like any other backyard moonshine and is consumed in mass quantities in the country, mostly mixed with some other better tasting beverage.
This french apertif (drank before your meal) is a mixture of wine and maserated fruit creating a sweet, spiced, herb-flavored, wine-like beverage. Although it began in Bordeaux, France as a tasty tonic that helped fight off fevers and other symptoms of Malaria this fortified wine is straight delicious and can be found in many, if not most, US bars today.
Lillet comes in three DELICIOUS styles either blanc (white), Rose, or Rouge (Red) and traditionally drinks on the rocks but can also be a great addition to a cocktail.
1 oz. Lillet Blanc
1 oz. Vodka
1 oz. Gin
Dash of Orange Bitters
Stirred and Served in a Martini glass with a lemon twist.
Invented and made famous by James Bond this is a variation on his Classic Vesper cocktail.
Italy – Fernet Branca
Another classic that is frequently available in US bars today! Fernet Branca is an Italian digestive (drank after a meal) that’s flavor is something that may have to grow on you. Those who hate it say it tastes like mouthwash and those who love it, swear by its intensely herbaceous sweetness. This beverage has all the flavors…Anise, chickory, aloe, saffron, and bitter.
There are TONS of different varieties of fernet but Branca is the bar staple. This is a common shot of choice for bartenders, foodies, and chefs alike! Most often it is sipped after a heavy meal to soothe your stomach.
Indonesia – Arak
This super strong (often 120 proof) distilled coconut palm spirit has caused quite a controversy. Served in many Asian countries but made infamous in Indonesia for its popularity among tourists and locals alike, this spirit is the cheapest of Indonesia.
Not the same as the Lebonese arak you can purchase in liqour stores.
It’s in everything from your “vodka shot” to your cocktail, but you have to be careful where you get it.
Aside from the many death’s due to alcohol poisoning from its mega-high abv, Arak is also commonly contaminated with Methanol, a toxic chemical that gives the beverage a gasoline-like flavor. Distilled at home, this Indonesian moonshine causes many restaurants to cut corners during the distilling process making cheaper and cheaper liquor (around 25 cents a shot) and this results in contaminated batches sending hundreds of tourists a year to the hospital.
But if you try it at a reputable restaurant (like Potato Head Beach Club ) you’ll be getting the real deal. It’s a pretty tasteless alcohol that they throw in cocktails in lieu of any other clear spirit.
Coconut Arak Attack
1.5 oz. Arak
.5 oz. Fresh Lime juice
Topped with Ginger beer and Pineapple Juice
Served over ice and garnished with a mint sprig
We all delve into the food world of every country we visit but we often forget that alcohol can be just as diverse. Every country has it’s own unique flavor profiles as well as fresh fruits and local produce to contribute to new signature cocktails and spirits.
So, drink up! And feel free to share any of your favorite cocktail recipes you tried while abroad.