Although the alcohol percentage of this Japanese drink is low, it doesn’t make it any easier to imbibe. White, thick and with an aftertaste – this is one highly suspicious-looking liquid. Like many Asian alcohols, it’s made from rice, though in this case it often feels like the rice has barely disintegrated and you’re in fact drinking a slightly more watery tin of rice pudding.
It can be quite difficult to find outside of Japanese supermarkets and convenience stores. To be all the more Japanese about it, drink it hot on a winter’s evening.
Like most Russian beverages, Kvas is pretty lethal. The taste and colour are made particularly odd in this instance due to the base of rye bread. In the summer it’s the classic go-to refresher – even for kids, who line up outside the Kvas barrels waiting for their alcoholic kick. If you haven’t tried it before, expect a strong, sour hit that is unlike anything you expect when looking at it. On the plus side, the rye base means it’s packed with vitamin B. Ah, the sour, bitter taste of nutrients.
This drink from Greece is a little bit… ‘piney’. Imagine a car air freshener had been squeezed out into a liquid and you might be on the right lines. Shockingly, Retsina does not feature highly on bar shelves or restaurant wine lists across the globe. You will, however, be able to find it in Greek speciality food stores. To try it in real life, head to Faliraki, the island covered in pines (although make sure you check accommodation reviews thoroughly, as this is also a hotspot for 16-24 exam after parties). Combined with Greek meze, you might not even be able to taste this odd, smelly, unusual wine.
Baijiu is supposedly the drink you’ve never heard of; yet everybody seems to be talking about it. Like other Asian spirits such as sake, it’s made from grains – in this case, specifically sorghum. For the non-Chinese population, the taste is strong, repulsive and shudder-inducing, and at 60% alcohol content that’s no real surprise. Recently a new social-media based ‘baiju challenge’ game has become popular, though can’t be recommended to try at home.
In colder countries, the drinks are stronger – if only so people can get a little warmth during those days of -10 degree temperatures. Iceland’s choice of cockle-warming drinks is Brennivin, which rather aptly translates as ‘burning wine’.
The drink is similar to vodka, but comes without the sharp kick and head pain. It’s made from potato and spices such as cumin and caraway, and is generally shotted neat.
There’s only one distillery making this drink, which is commonly referred to as ‘black death’. So a visit to the country is definitely in order if you want to get your frozen mitts around a glass.
6. Vana Tallin
Unlike the other largely unknown drinks on the list, Vana Tallin is delicious. It’s a creamy, rum-based liquor that is drunk in coffee shops after midnight all over the city to combat the cold seeping through your toes. You can find this alcohol online and in some speciality supermarkets – or do it the sensible way and head to Estonia for a taste and pick up tonnes of the stuff in duty free. Don’t forget to toast the local people with a friendly “terviseks” when you drink it!
80% alcohol. Need we say more? This is one skull-exploding drink that is nigh on impossible to drink more than a few shots of without passing out.
If you want to take the easy road, however, add a little brown sugar, lemonade and orange or lime pieces. That makes it slightly tamer. Slightly.
Amazake photo by Bex Walton. License: CC BY 2.0.