Fernet is an aromatic bitter spirit made from a blend of herbs and spices and a base of distilled grape spirits. Among the many ingredients are myrrh, rhubarb, chamomile, cardamom, and the exotic spice saffron. Fernet is a digestif and can be drunk straight or combined with espresso or coffee over ice. However, in Argentina, Fernet is most often combined with Coca-Cola and ice to make the country’s unofficial national drink. In fact, the amount of Coca-Cola consumed by Argentinians, thanks to its pairing with Fernet, is enough to keep Argentina among the leading consumers of Coca-Cola worldwide.
Best way to drink it: Don’t mess around here. Fernet and Cola stirred over ice.
Becherovka is an herbal bitter liquor, commonly consumed as a digestif. Similar to Fernet, Becherovka is made from a blend of twenty different herbs and spices that produce a gingery-cinnamon type of flavor. Becherovka was first made in the famous spa town of Karlovy Vary in what is today the Czech Republic. Invented by Josef Becher after discussing with English physician Christian Frobrig the possibilities for a new medicinal liqueur, Becherovka was originally intended to treat stomach ailments.
Best way to drink it: Combined with tonic water to make a Beton, which translates to “concrete” in English.
Pisco – Peru
Peru has a number of drinks to its name, including Chicha de Jora, the corn beer native to the Andes. The most well known of Peruvian drinks, however, is Pisco. This local version of Brandy, which is liquor distilled from fermented grape juice, was developed by Spanish settlers in the 16th century. Where exactly Pisco was first produced is a little bit contentious. Both Peru and Chile claim ownership over Pisco, believing the drink to have originated within their borders. However, the earliest recorded mention of Pisco comes from Pedro Manuel of Ica, Peru, whose last will and testament mentioned the distilling equipment used to make Pisco in the early 1600s. That’s why Peru gets the nod here.
Best way to drink it: In a Pisco Sour.
ABV: Typically 38-48%.
Baijiu – China
Baijiu is the blanket term for the Chinese clear liquor usually distilled from fermented sorghum. It is, believe it or not, the most consumed liquor in the world, despite being consumed almost entirely within Chinese borders. Virtually unknown outside of China, Baijiu sales in 2018 were more than whiskey, tequila, vodka, and gin combined. The official count for Baijiu consumed in 2018 came in at 10.8 billion liters. With a taste that is supposed to be similar to whiskey, Baijiu producers are starting to look to expand to the world market.
Best way to drink it: Straight; at room temperature.
ABV: Anywhere from 28-65%.
Tej – Ethiopia
Tej is a traditional mead or honey wine from Ethiopia with a history that dates back to over 3000 years ago. In fact, Tej means “wine” in Ahmaric, the official language of Ethiopia. Tej is typically flavored with the powdered leaves and twigs of the Gesho plant, a species of buckthorn that serves as a bitter flavoring agent similar to hops in beer. Tej is almost always homemade, and is served in a barele, a traditional glass that looks similar to a lab beaker. Tej is consumed socially in Tej houses around Ethiopia. It’s fermented properties make it great for improving gut bacteria.
Best way to drink it: With some friends in a Tej house.
ABV: Varies depending on fermentation length; typically between 7 – 11%, but can go as high as 20%.
Airag – Mongolia
Airag is the fermented milk of a mare. Thought to have originated in Central Asia, where it also goes by the name of Kumis, the drink has been produced for centuries. It has a low ABV and is traditionally served cold in small, handless saucers known as a piyalas. The drink is an extension of the nomadic lifestyle of the people of Central Asia and Mongolia, which is centered around herding and horseriding. 13th century explorer William of Rubrick described Airag as having an almondy taste as well as having the ability to make “the inner man most joyful… intoxicate weak heads, and greatly provoke urine.” Sounds great.
Best way to drink it: In someone’s home, or out on the jayloo, a summertime pasture.
ABV: Typically between 0.7 – 2.5%.
Buckfast – Scotland
Notorious for inspiring “anti-social” behavior, Buckfast is a caffeinated fortified wine originally produced by monks in Devon, England. Although Buckfast is now made and distributed by J. Chandler & Company, it still relies on the same traditional recipe derived from France. A scapegoat for Ned Culture in Scotland, a single 750ml bottle of Buckfast contains the same caffeine content as eight cans of cola. Nicknames for Buckfast include “Wreck the House Juice,” “Commotion Lotion,” and “Cumbernauld Rocket Fuel.”
Best way to drink it: When you’re out with the lads.
ABV: 15%; plus 25 mg/100 ml of caffeine.
Pulque – Mexico
Before Tequila or Mezcal, there was Pulque. Pulque is a drink made from the fermented sap of the Maguey (Agave) plant. The drink has been native to Central Mexico for millennia and was considered sacred by the Mesoamerican people. Originally restricted to the upper classes of Mesoamerican society, Pulque became available for all people following the Spanish Conquest, and consumption increased right on through to the 20th century. The expansion of beer in recent years has driven Pulque consumption down, but the drink is still widely available across Mexico. Pulque has a milk-like color and a thick viscous texture. Pulque also includes many important nutrients such as vitamins C, B-complex, E, and D, as well as amino acids. As they say in Mexico, “sólo le falta un grado para ser carne,” or “it is only a bit shy of being meat.”
Best way to drink it: In a pulquería, chilled in a large mug.
ABV: 4 – 6%.
Waragi – Uganda
Waragi actually translates to “moonshine” in English, and can be used to describe any homemade alcohol in Uganda. The most common versions of Waragi are homemade gins, which were first introduced by British colonialists in the 19th century. The base spirit for Waragi is distilled from a variety of crops including cassava, banana, sugar cane, and millet. A commercial brand known as Uganda Waragi is produced by E. African Breweries Ltd. but most Waragi in Uganda continues to be homemade. Alcohol content can vary due to the homemade nature. Safety is another issue, as the distilling process is often crude and can lead to contaminants like menthanol.
Best way to drink it: With a doctor close by.
ABV: Commercial stuff is around 40%; homemade can be stronger.
Arak – Jordan
Arak is distilled beverage popular throughout the Middle East and North Africa, made from a neutral distilled grape base, and flavored with Anise seed. The oil of the anise seed gives Arak it’s licorice-like taste, as well as its slightly viscous texture. Arak can be extremely alcoholic when homemade, but most commercial versions have ABV’s similar to other spirits. Arak is usually served as one part Arak to two parts water. The reaction of the anise with water turns the clear liquid cloudy.
Best way to drink it: Room temp; 2 parts water to 1 part Arak. Serve with mezza, small appetizer like plates, for best results.
ABV: Homemade – up to 95%; Commercial – between 40 – 63%.
By Aldo Moreno