World booze guide: The best things to drink in 43 countries
In an effort to provide you with a comfortable booze option no matter where you are, we put together a list of the best things to drink in 43 countries all over the world. Depending on how the citizens of the country drink it, we chose either a particular type of booze or a cocktail. As much as possible, we tried to avoid repetition, but it turns out a lot of places enjoy anise-flavored spirits. And yes, we missed a bunch of countries (we apologize, Equatorial Guinea), so let us know what drinks and countries we need to add in the comments.
What it is: Fermented, aged grains that are at least 51% corn
Why it's great: Do we even have to tell you? Maybe because it was invented in America, though a dispute rages on about whether it’s named after the county in Kentucky, or the street in New Orleans, where Kentucky whiskey outsold more expensive French cognac. Or maybe it’s because we actually have a National Bourbon Heritage Month (it’s in September). Or maybe it’s just because it can be enjoyed in so many different ways, whether in a Hot Toddy, an Old Fashioned, or straight up. Either way, it’s the quintessential American beverage.
What it is: Vodka, Clamato, hot sauce, celery salt, Worcestershire, lime, pepper, and celery
Why it’s great: Because Calgary resident and restaurant manager Walter Chell invented it to celebrate the opening of a new Italian restaurant inside the Calgary Inn, and also because it reminded him of the Spaghetti alle Vongole (with clams) they made in Venice. Also, it’s worth pointing out that basically all of Clamato’s sales are in Canada.
What it is: A spirit made from a blue agave plant, usually in the state of Jalisco, either northwest of Guadalajara in Tequila or in the highlands.
Why it’s great: Despite what Pee-wee Herman might have you believe in his Big Adventure, Mexico has the international rights to the word tequila; its agave is still mostly all harvested by hand, and you can do shots of it when you want an excuse to text your ex-gf very late at night.
Argentina: Fernet with cola
What it is: A minty amaro digestif made from grape distilled spirits and all sorts of spices. Plus cola!
Why it’s great: Though fernet is an Italian digestif, Argentina consumes around 25mill liters of the liquor (sorry, San Francisco). It’s also supposed to be the favorite drink of the best pro golfer with a crazy ponytail, Angel Cabrera.
What it is: Cachaca, lime, and sugar
Why it's great: Citrusy, with enough sweetness to mask the fact that it's very boozy. Invokes the feeling of being on a beach, about to do something honorable/malicious in cars with Vin Diesel.
Peru: Pisco Sour
What it is: Pisco, lime, simple syrup, and egg white
Why it’s great: Because it was allegedly created by an expat American bartender named Victor V. Morris in Lima in the 1920s, though a Peruvian bartender, who worked at the bar, apparently added egg whites and bitters, creating the modern recipe. Chile also claims ownership of the Pisco Sour, and they both pretty loudly argue this point, so don’t bring it up if you’re sitting in between a Peruvian and a Chilean.
What it is: A hot drink made with fruit juice, aguardiente (a South American firewater, also popular in Colombia), cinnamon sticks (called canela), brown sugar, and water.
Why it’s great: Because hot, spicy booze drinks are delicious when it’s cold and you’re sitting at 9,000ft elevation.
What it is: An anise-flavored spirit, not unlike Ouzo or Raki
Why it’s great: Because it means “fiery water”, and people in the Andean regions of Colombia drink it neat, out of shot glasses, like badasses.
What it is: An Irish dry stout
Why it’s great: It’s the best selling alcoholic drink in Ireland (with sales of over $2bill annually); it was first brewed in 1759 when Arthur Guinness signed a sweet 9,000yr lease (at £45 a year) on an unused brewery; it’s officially actually a very dark red color.
What it is: Really? But also, sparkling wine produced specifically in the Champagne region of France following specific rules about a second fermentation.
Why it’s great: Because the first sparkling wine was created accidentally, and they called it “le vin du diable”, or “the devil’s wine”. Apparently the devil likes bubbly sh*t.
What it is: Cut fruit, red wine, and brandy
Why it’s great: Because it’s named after the word for effin’ “bloodletting”, thanks to that color. Not to be confused with Adam Carolla’s “Mangria”.
What it is: A juniper-flavored liquor originally made by distilling malt wine and adding juniper berries to mask the not-so-nice flavor.
Why it’s great: Like Champagne and tequila, EU regulations state that only liquor made in Holland and Belgium (plus a few French provinces and maybe a German state or two, but whatever!) can use the name jenever. Ketel One was originally a jenever distillery, before they got much more famous for their vodka. Oh, and you do the shot of it without your hands, like a classy girl at a bar for a bachelorette party.
Germany: Any Reinheitsgebot beer
What it is: Beer made under the German Beer Purity Law, which restricted beer ingredients to water, hops, and barley until 1993.
Why it's great: Reinheitsgebot means you're not getting a bunch of weird crap, like fruit and seafood, in your beer and probably means you get to drink out of a glass boot.
England: Pimm’s No. 1 Cup
What it is: Gin-based spirit with fruit and spice flavors, mixed with (preferably) dry English bubbly lemonade, as well as mint, cucumber, and lemon, or sometimes other fruits like apple and orange.
Why it’s great: Because James Pimm created a “house cup” of booze for his oyster bar in London in 1840, which he later bottled and sold, before selling the rights to Frederick “Don’t Call Me Tom” Sawyer in 1865. Also, it’s been associated with Wimbledon since 1971, and, every year, they sell 80K pints worth of the cocktail. Also also, it’s pretty delicious in the Summer.
Portugal: Port Wine
What it is: Fortified wine
Why it's great: What's not to love about wine that's been spiked with a brandy-like grape spirit and aged in wood or bottles? Nothing. It's like regular wine, but boozier and sweeter. And it's a great excuse to drink with dessert.
What it is: Distilled fruit brandy
Why it's great: This ain't the peppermint stuff you did shots of when you were 22 and didn't like the taste of beer -- this is classier booze that's been in Austria since the 1700s, and it's made with wild fruits, berries, and even pinecones. It's also proven to warm you up in the Winter.
What it is: Distilled pomace
Why it's great: Turns out you can literally turn garbage into gold, as grappa is what you get after you distill stems and other grape junk leftover after making wine. But grappa really wins points for being a glutton's best friend following a huge meal. It’s helpful in aiding your digestion of, say, a metric ton of pasta. It's also surprisingly versatile, as it can be blended with espresso.
What it is: Barrel-aged whisky
Why it's great: Because whisky. And because drinking it makes you feel like you've accomplished something with your life, especially when you drink it while wearing a velveteen robe and smoking a cigar.
Czech Republic: Absinthe
What it is: Distilled herbs (aniseed, fennel, and wormwood)
Why it's great: A popular drink in the Czech Republic since the late-1800s, absinthe was consumed by artists and other creative people who nowadays would be baristas. The mystique of the spirit's potentially psychotropic qualities has only added to its popularity. Also notable is the bizarre way in which it's prepared at bars, usually requiring utilization of a special spoon, a sugar cube, and a “fountain”.
What it is: Basically, Damson plum brandy.
Why it’s great: Because old crotchety Eastern European grandfathers drink it. Which means, in about two years, hipsters are going to be ALL OVER Slivovitz. Get in now!
What it is: Booze seasoned with a resin taken from the mastic, a Mediterranean evergreen tree.
Why it’s great: Though they also drink it in Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania, Macedonians consider it the national drink, and serve it over ice alongside meze. I dunno, does that make it great?!?
What it is: Fermented grains or potatoes
Why it's great: Like that suit coat the Fresh Prince wore to school inside-out or the regular way, vodka is equally versatile. Vodka is the spirit that gets the job done whether it's flavored a million different ways, or is super cheap and solely used as a mixer.
What it is: Though it sounds like something… else, it’s a cask-aged herbal digestif, made from more than 40 herbs.
Why it’s great: When Hungary was Communist, the Zwack family who make Unicum lived in exile in the US, and Unicum was made using a different, crappier recipe. When the Commies fell, the Zwack’s came back, and made the much better version. U-S-A! U-S-A!?
What it is: A clear, colorless rice, wheat, or barley spirit
Why it’s great: It means “burned liquor” and is usually consumed neat; restaurants without full liquor licenses often use it as a replacement for vodka in their cocktails. The soju brand Jinro is the highest-selling alcohol brand in the world. And Lotte soju is third.
What it is: Fermented sorghum and wheat
Why it's great: Maotai has been a hugely popular drink in China since the Qing Dynasty was kicking around hundreds of years ago, and it's also what Nixon was poured when he visited China in '72. Mmm, taste the history! It's been nicknamed “white lightning”, likely due to an ABV that's usually around 50%.
What it is: A fermented rice drink that you keep calling "rice wine" because you're wrong… it's actually brewed more like beer.
Why it's great: Hot or cold, straight or taken as a sake-bomb that Chad forced on you when he asked you out for "soosh", it's the perfect complement to Japanese food. Plus it makes you feel warm and fuzzy, and gives you an excuse to scream "kampai" at strangers.
What it is: A stiff spirit that's billed as whisky but is actually more like rum, since it's made with rice, sugarcane, and molasses, then cut with secret spices.
Why it's great: Because it tastes like a rum/whisky blend cut with sake... something you typically only get a taste of if you make out with Kim Cattrall on sushi night.
The Philippines: Lambanog
What it is: A high-octane wine made by fermenting the sap of the coconut flower
Why it's great: Because anything that's synonymous with multi-generational communal-drinking rules, especially when that drink is 80-90 proof and guaranteed to get Grandpa to tell dirty jokes.
What it is: Distilled grape remnants flavored with anise (and other spices)
Why it's great: Food can sometimes elevate a drink, and Greece knows this well, opting to serve ouzo with small plates like grilled octopus, olives, and fried potatoes. And we love the all-or-nothing way it's consumed: either you accept ouzo's licorice-like flavor and drink it neat or with a little bit of water, or you’ll need to find something else to drink. Wuss.
What it is: An anise-flavored fermented grape hard booze.
Why it’s great: Because every year, Turks drink 60mill liters of it. And, because they call it “lion’s milk”, as it turns milky when you mix it with ice, and calling something “lion’s milk” is awesome.
Israel & Lebanon: Arak
What it is: Usually double-fermented grape juice, though dates and plums are sometimes used too.
Why it's great: Because all wine should be 40+ percent alcohol, and this celebratory drink is the greatest grape juice since Welch's.
What it is: Fermented and distilled sugarcane and sugarcane byproducts like molasses
Why it's great: Drinking it is like the boozy-equivalent of a sugar high, but it doesn't dye your lips like Purplesaurus Rex. It's great with Coke, in a mojito, straight, or as the inspiration for a diary.
Bermuda: Rum Swizzle
What it is: Dark rum, light rum, lemon, pineapple, OJ, Falernum, and Angostura bitters
Why it’s great: Though swizzles have been documented as being around since the 18th century, everyone associates the rum swizzle with Michael Douglas’s favorite pub, The Swizzle Inn, which first sold a swizzle in 1932.
What it is: Rum, sugar, mint, lime, and sparkling water
Why it’s great: When Ernest Hemingway wasn’t drinking daiquiris in Key West, or writing very sparse, economical fiction, or riding on top of bulls, or divorcing Hadley Richardson, or Pauline Pfeiffer, or Martha Gellhorn, he loved these things. So there.
Denmark: Gammel Dansk
What it is: A bitters liquor along the lines of Fernet
Why it’s great: Although Akevitt is the drink most associated with the Danes, we opted for GD, so as to distinguish them from Norway, and also because they normally drink this booze during breakfast, and that is kind of awesome.
What it is: Caraway, cumin, and angelica-flavored gin or unsweetened schnapps
Why it’s great: For one, its name translates to “burning wine”, which is the best description of hard liquor ever. For two, it usually comes in shot form, served with fermented shark meat. For three, it’s name-checked in “Skin and Bones” by the Foo Fighters.
Finland: Koskenkorva Viina (or Kossu)
What it is: Grain alcohol diluted with spring water, and a touch of sugar, so, essentially, vodka, though they call it viina.
Why it’s great: Because it’s essentially a slightly sweetened form of vodka. And apparently, very recently, people have started mixing Kossu with ground Fisherman's Friend lozenges for a cocktail known as "Fisu”. That’s Helsinki slang for fish. Everyone should read ex-pat Finnish blogs.
What it is: A spirit usually distilled from grain or potatoes and flavored with caraway or dill
Why it’s great: Like whisky and that French brandy eau du vie, it means water of life. In Norway, it’s usually consumed at room temp, out of shot glasses, especially during celebrations, like upcoming Norwegian Constitution Day and Christmas, when they eat pork ribs and “stick meat”, or Pinnekjøtt as you probably know it.
What it is: Banana beer
Why it's great: Because bananas are great, and the beer they make is sweet and sessionable. And apparently it makes you really, really good at running marathons.
What it is: Honey wine
Why it's great: Ethiopians make the sweet stuff for super cheap in their house -- it just takes a lot of honey, water, and gesho (a type of buckthorn). To serve, it requires a berele, or a vase-like bottle, that's as fancy looking as something out of Walter White's lab.
Madagascar: Toaka Gasy
What it is: Rum
Why it's great: Because it's often made in small villages and used for ritualistic purposes and celebrations, proving once and for all that all rituals are way better when they're soaked in rum.
What it is: A high-proof palm wine
Why it's great: Because it's a hugely popular, home-brewed nectar made all over the country and used as an offering in religious ceremonies that probably often end with two strangers making out. (Why it's not great: Amateur brewers often make it wrong and die as a result.)
South Africa: Springbokkie
What it is: A cocktail mixing mint liqueur and Amarula… a cream liqueur made with marula fruit.
Why it's great: Because the combination of cream and mint kind of makes it taste like a boozy version of the Shamrock Shake, but greener and alcoholier.
Kevin Alexander is Thrillist’s Food/Drink Executive Editor, and plans to immediately start drinking Slivovitz to get in good with Eastern European old people. Follow him and the new band he’s going to start called “Burning Wine” @KAlexander03.