Top 10 Countries to Drink the Local Alcohol

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Alcohol is almost ubiquitous and used for a variety of occasions. Although the customs and the rituals with which alcohol is consumed are as varied as the places they come from, the appeal of alcohol still remains universal. So, if you think Jim Beam is too soft for your palette or have grown sick of the local beer, a trip to one of these locations can revitalize your taste buds and help you come away with a different perspective on one of man’s friendliest friends. Besides, what better way to introduce your self to the country’s culture?

10. Thailand – Lao Khao

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Yes, it has beautiful beaches and a sage-like people. However, if you take time to venture out from the palm-fringed beaches, the produce of the local industry might delight your senses. Rice whiskey or Lao Khao as it is commonly called is the local favorite, and it is not unusual to receive invitations from middle aged men to drink the local brew. You might go home in a far more drunken state than you had expected, but not without a richer experience.

9. Ghana – Palm Wine

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On a continent associated with political coups and violence, Ghana stands as a beacon of light. A proud Ashanti people populate its land and have a history of unmatched hospitality. In the likely event that you are a male, an invitation to one of the many home breweries may be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Through the simple technique of distillation, palm wine is obtained in the purest of forms. You may cringe at the ninety five percent alcoholic content that this procedure ensures, but like they say… ‘This is Africa’.

8. Brazil – Cachaca

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There is a kind of Brazilian beauty which does not take the human form. It is called Cachaca and is a high-proof sugarcane alcohol. Given the Brazilian Joie de Vivre, it resonates among young and old alike. If you are looking for a substitute to water, the Cachaca is the ideal choice. Moreover, you will be making friends and saving money. It is also used to make the unofficial Brazilian national drink, the Caipirinha.

7. South Korea – Soju and Dongdongju

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Often overshadowed by its more illustrious neighbors China and Japan, Korea has leapfrogged into an economic powerhouse. The Korean people are known for their resourcefulness and diligence, but an age old tradition of drinking exists among its people. Delve into this culture for a while and you will acquaint yourself with Soju and Dongdongju. Made out of sweet potatoes, Soju is a clear, almost flavorless drink that has been around since the thirteenth century, whereas Dondongju is brownish in appearance and is generally served in summer. Koreans will fill your glass each time it is emptied….

6. Mexico – Tequila

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Mexicans have embraced the drink that the Mayans created with a passion. Over two thousand years ago, the Aztecs extracted a juice from the agave plant and called it Octli, and the drinks of Pulque, Mezcal and Tequila emerged. You can indulge in any one or all of them, but be aware of taking your imitation of the gauchos too far. Mexicans are prone to having a good time at any given moment and will guide you through the rituals of consuming their national drink. With drinking history as illustrious as theirs, it’s best to hand over the reigns…until the next day.

5. Ethiopia – Tej

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Once synonymous with misery, Ethiopia has come out of the shadows. A proud people with a checkered past, Ethiopians are reaping the benefits of democracy. If you plan to travel to this fabled land, be prepared to drink Tej, a delicious local wine which can be quite potent. Served in little flasks called birille, it was once the favorite drink of Ethiopian kings. The only thing you should be worried about is the illusions of grandeur that it might inspire in you if consumed in copious quantities. Even Haile Selassie cannot help you then.

4. Ireland – Poitin

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A land where the spoken and the written word are celebrated with a passion, Ireland embraces the traveler with open arms. The land of James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, and W.B Yeats is steeped in history and folklore. Unfortunately, that history has been violent and punctuated with acts of vendetta. There is no better place to experience Ireland than a traditional Irish pub. Ask for Poitin, a traditional Irish distilled alcoholic beverage which only became legal again in 1997 after a period of three hundred and thirty six years and you’ll understand why a certain Mr. Wilde described work as the curse of the drinking classes.

3. Hungary – Palinka

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With a distinctive culture which has kept it at the fringes of Eastern Europe for centuries, Hungary remains an allure for a myriad reasons. If you find yourself in one of its famed cities, a visit to a house of Hungarian Palinka will warm your stomach. Distilled from a variety of produce including plums, pears, apples, walnuts and honey-paprika, Palinka is essentially a fermented fruit drink. It’s named after the Hungarian plain, but the contents of this drink are anything but, so be aware of the after-effects.

2. Japan – Sake

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Whatever your preconceptions about Japan, it is recommended you get rid of them before you visit the country. This realm includes alcohol. Sake or rice wine has been part of Japanese ritual since centuries. The types of Sake include Nigori, Nama and regular Sake. Run into an izakaya, the equivalent of a pub and you can drink sake in its myriad forms. Depending on the season it might be served warm or cold and can go particularly straight to the head after a few cups due to the 17 percent alcohol content. If you are feeling a little more adventurous, try the Shochu, a distilled spirit with 30 percent alcoholic content and all those premonitions about Japanese liquor will vanish.

1. Greece – Ouzo

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Socrates was forced to drink hemlock, but you won’t be forced to drink anything but Ouzo and Tsipouro in Greece nowadays. Distilled from grapes and flavored with aniseed, Ouzo is often served in karafakia (small glass container) and drunk diluted. It is rumored to produce the plethora of philosophers around Greece, albeit just for the night. Since the Greeks are never in agreement about the best drink in the world, they created Tsikoudia, a potent spirit made of grape skins. A visit to the island of Crete may just surprise you of the hedonism that abounds after the consumption of the Tsikoudia, but you might be inclined to join in. After all, they started it all. Philosophy, Democracy, Literature… Photo by sp!ros

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by Reddy Blair


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22 Comments

  1. As a one time NYC bartender (for 18 years) I'm familiar with some of these beverages. I even set up and managed a Korean bar (Korea Palace, 54th between Park Ave & Lexington) for a year and a half. There's also Green Soju, which is supposed to be all natural.

    While Greeks certainly love Ouzo, the drink they've been drinking for 2000 years is Retsina, a white or rose wine made with pine resin added to it.

    The ritual drinking of Sake (warmed to body temperature) dates to great antiquity, but few know of a certain ritual prior to lovemaking where the woman, naked, holds her knees together and her lap is filled with heated Sake to be drunk by her lover.

    While I was visiting Carrigtwohill in County Cork Ireland, my father was served Poitín in their local style (at that time it was still illegal). They said they added a little flower that grows by the side of the road to their Poitín, but otherwise either malted barley or potatoes are used. Malted simply means that the seed is allowed to sprout in order for the seed to release "maltose" (sugar) into the young plant, which is then dried, ground up, mixed with water and yeast, fermented (into a kind of a beer) and then finally distilled into high proof liquor.

    Ethiopian Tej is in fact Mead. At one time we all drank Mead, but Ethiopia has kept the custom alive as a national drink far longer than European nations. Planting grapes in Rome meant uprooting forests where bees build their hives, so Mead fell out of fashion there, while the Germans and later the Vikings continued fermenting Mead for close to another thousand years, and it can still be ordered in many German locals (taverns & bars). Vikings used to "ice distill" mead in winter, leaving it outside in the cold and removing the ice that formed inside the barrel all winter long until spring when all that was left was very high proof mead indeed. The custom of the Honeymoon comes from drinking honey wine for an entire month (a moon) after marriage in the belief that this would help guarantee the birth of a son. This belief has been shown to have a scientific basis, as mead alters the pH of the body in such a way as to produce higher male sperm content.

    Not personally familiar with Ghana's Palm Wine, I do know something of the Ashanti. Ghana is divided into two climate regions, the north having just one rainy season, and the south, two. Of the tribes of Ghana, the Ashanti have always been considered the most powerful, and famous for resisting British Imperialism in the Hundred Years War.

  2. What about Scotch? I am shocked…

    But yes ouzo is pretty nice, so is retsina, recently went to greece and spent a fair amount of time 'sampling' these delights!

    • "Missing Germany…" I had thought the exact same thing, only "incomplete" would be the word I'd choose.

      Maybe it's precisely because Germany is already so famous – so many different types of beer that you could drink a different one at breakfast, lunch and dinner for an entire year and still not run out of new ones to try… Schnapps, Jaegermeister, GoldSchlaeger, Kuemmel… and wines like Gewuerztraminer… Obviously a huge drinking country – where an average of 50 drinks per person are consumed per week (about the same as in Scotland).

      What you say is true too, Ruby, but again, Scotch is so well known already that, although it's completely unique because it uses an open pot distillation method. This means that the pot still is left open so the oily smoke from the burning peat used to heat the wort is allowed to enter into the process, creating that distinct Scotch taste. Single malts, single glens, so much about Scotch that makes it exciting.

      But this list could only show ten – and so they had to be out of the way, less familiar to us, as Americans, rather than the stuff we are already most familiar. I was disappointed (after all, who doesn't love German beer?) but I understand why the author had to leave them out.

    • Not having Germany and Belgium on this makes it obsolete. I mean seriously what about Belgium Abby Beer!!!!!!!!!! These two countries are the most famous in the world for beer.

  3. Suthnautr – Really good feedback for this list of countries to drink the local alcohol and nice commentary on why Germany may have been left off of this list. Hard to believe and seemingly an obvious choice but I like your reasoning. It seems the author may have been focusing on alcohol other than beer as well.

  4. Where's Russia in all this? Russians rank #1 and consumes more alcohol than any other country in the world (double the consumption of the US). I think they should be somewhere on this list!!!

  5. Belgian beer is the best.

    Too bad you missed that country on your list.

    Almost 200 different breweries, 400 different types of regularly brewed beer and 8700 different types available.

  6. You should include Guatemalan Rum… Its amazing! Its aged 23 years and it has won the award for best Rum in the world sevral times

  7. Tequila, even in Mexico, is way overpriced. There are excellent mezcals all over, including Sotol (in Chihuahua) and Barcanora (in Sonora). These are at least as good as tequilas and much cheaper since they don't have the name. Tequla is just mezcal made from the blue agave, there are many other agaves that are just s good. Mexico also makes excellent brandy, which is what they used to drink before the gringos made tequila so popular. They have excellent wines, and several interesting liqueurs such as ixtla bentun and datura, and some great beers like Tecate, Modelo dark, and (only in Yucatan) Leon.

    You can also still get the horrible two dollar a gallon tequila, although it's about five dollars now. Worth every peso. Comes in a plastic jug shaped like a beehive.

  8. Calling sake rice wine is inaccurate. Unlike true wine, in which alcohol is produced by fermenting the sugar naturally present in fruit, sake is made through a brewing process more like that of beer. To make beer or sake, the sugar needed to produce alcohol must first be converted from starch. But the brewing process for sake differs from beer brewing as well, notably in that for beer, the conversion of starch to sugar and sugar to alcohol occurs in two discrete steps, but with sake they occur simultaneously.

    In reality, sake is a high alcohol specialty beer. Nothing like wine at all.

  9. I really liked this list! I wish I could try them a little more easily…

    (A tiny, semi-geeky but important note: Socrates was given the choice of drinking lethal hemlock, or simply leaving Athens and stop teaching philosophy. I know you kept it brief for diction/syntax’s sake but still!)

    Moar multicultural articles…moarrrrr!

  10. I think it's worth mentioning that Soju (South Korea) is cheaper than bottled water, and is available from juice box style cartons upto 5 litre bottles!

  11. Tej is a wonderful drink in Ethiopia. I do dislike the commentary on this though. Ethiopia was “Once synonymous with misery.” Check history, it’s much more than that. Second, “Reaping the benefits of democracy.” Meles, Ethiopia’s current president, is a dictator just like Mubarak.

  12. Scotland:- for many types of blended whisky, grain whisky and single malt whisky.

    Germany for wheat beer and various other beer types.

    Belgium for over 200 types of beer, including Trappiste and fruit-flavoured styles.

    Philippines for lambanog spirit, Tanduay Rum, San Miguel and Red Horse beers.

  13. Mistress of the Obvious on

    Where’s the prickly-pear fruit liquor from Malta. (Can’t remember what it was called.) The street vendors always call the tourists to “have a drink with them” to get a sale. Well worth the price! I also drank local Maltese wine and would also recommend it as well.

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