Humankind has been eating since the beginning of time. And we’ve been drinking for just as long. No matter where you are in the world, you’ll find that every culture has found ways to make the most of fermentation, distillation, and everything in between. While you may be familiar with such favorites as sake (Japan) and tequila (Mexico), here are a few more beverages to add to your boozy bucket list.
Banana Beer- East Africa
Banana beer is exactly what it sounds like; alcohol made from fermented bananas. Usually, grain or maize is added, allowing it to resemble something closer to beer than wine. It goes by urwagwa in Rwanda, urwaga in Kenya, as well as many other names. Banana beer is traditionally made by local brewers, but commercially bottled banana beers can also be purchased from stores in the region.
Aguardiente literally translates to “fire water”, and for good reason: aguardiente is 29% alcohol! Throughout South America, aguardiente is sometimes used as a generic term for liquor. But in Colombia, aguardiente is a beloved national favorite and refers specifically to alcohol made from distilled sugarcane and anise. It is a staple at many Colombian celebrations and many have referred to it as Colombia’s “official drink”. You can make cocktails with it, but it’s more popular to just drink it in a single shot. Down the hatch!
Baijiu is hard to come by in the US, but its popularity in China supposedly makes it one of the best selling alcohols in the world. Baijiu, or “white spirits” is distilled from sorghum, but can also be made from rice or millet. Baijiu’s strong taste has earned it a notorious reputation amongst Westerners traveling to China, but it remains the country’s drink of choice for festivities and important occasions. Baijiu is especially vital to business culture: drinking and sharing baijiu with business partners is considered good manners. One of the most coveted brands of baijiu is Moutai, a bottle of which costs at least $115!
Arak is a double fermented alcohol made from grapes and is usually flavored with anise as well as other spices. Because it has such a high alcohol content (30% to 60%), it is common to dilute it with water and ice, a process that makes this clear alcohol turn a milky white color. While you could technically drink arak on its own, its actually meant to be enjoyed with food! Arak is considered the absolute best drink to accompany meze, or small dishes.
Before there was gin, there was jenever. Originating as far back as the 1600s, jenever is a spicy juniper flavored spirit made from multiple distillates. The first distillate is a whiskey-like combination of corn, wheat, and rye, while the second distillate is infused with juniper. Because of this, some like to think of jenever as a mix of whiskey and gin. But jenever is its own unique drink, and gin fans will find the flavor to be quite different than that of gin. Interestingly, EU law dictates that jenever can only legally be made in Holland, Belgium, and a few regions in France and Germany. It is truly one of a kind!