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National Drinks? Tequila is to Mexico as ... is to Other Countries

Tequila is to Mexico as what is to the other countries of the world? I'm hoping to slowly develop a collection of my favorite international spirits. Unfortunately being a college student means it's rare that I get to experience different types of good alcohol so I don't even know what to look for. Please realize, I may be in college, but I like to at least think I have good taste; when i say tequila I'm talking 100% agave sipping tequila, I'd gladly take a nice Rioja over a warm Budweiser any day and the idea of a "sake bomb" makes be want to hurl. Please tell me your personal favorite international spirit that is available in the US.

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  1. cachaca - brazil
    vodka - russia
    aquavit - sweden (?)
    beer - germany
    fenni - goa
    mint tea - morocco

    7 Replies
    1. re: thew

      Can you recommend particular producers or is it all amazing?

      1. re: hungry_fox

        I recently had a good vodka from of all places France ... Sirius.

        Are you planning to buy bottles? I think on a budge the best to do is to find restaurants or bars where you can limit the damage financially to a single serving.

        Chartreuse - France
        This is one I recommend only trying at a bar. Despite the 120 herbs in it, both the yellow and green were very cloying to me and took a long, long ... long time to finish off.

        Fernet-Branca - Milan, Italy ... you either love it or hate it

        As to cachaca, it can be good, but is often rot gut. The best is to try to find a place that offers flights.

        This was a pretty good roundup that includes wines and beers. The latter I won't list and will try not to repeat stuff mentined as of this post

        Canada - Newfoundland Screech: A dark rum

        Central/South America: - Aguardiente:

        China - Maotai: A clear 55% alcohol

        Croatia: Rakija

        Czech Republic - Becherovka

        Fiji Kava

        Honduras: Garifuna

        Ibiza Hierbas:

        Indonesia - Arak

        Romania: Tuica Palinca:

        Well, it goes on ..

        1. re: sparkalina

          one time my brother and law and i drank a little much of the akvavit, and he then called it "aardvark." now it is a joke, to talk about drinking aardvark. ;-).

          (then it makes me think of john byner's characters in "the ant and the aardvark"
          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cPuLiL... ).

          1. re: alkapal

            I LOVE "The Ant and The Aardvark"--are you sure we weren't separated at birth or something? ;)

            And while we're going around the world, how about Vandermint from Holland?

            I used to be a BIG on the stuff--think adult Girl Scout cookie! ;)

            1. re: kattyeyes

              "hey ant!!" ;-).

              maybe we *were* separated at birth, kattyeyes. (ps, love your kitty pic).
              vandermint? oh yeah, i've done the vandermint. i see the bottle is still done in a delft-motif: http://www.drinkswap.com/ingredients/...

              i'd like to make some cookies using that vandermint, maybe with some added chunks of dark chocolate. have you tried this thin mint liqueur? http://www.drinkswap.com/ingredients/...

              btw, at christmastime, look at trader joe's for the white chocolate peppermint bark candy*bar* near the checkout counters. intense gs mint cookie flavor -- with REAL chocolate.

              1. re: alkapal

                Oooh! I recognize the Just Desserts label, but didn't try the Thin Mint. We had Creme Brulee. Checky checky:

                Note both drink AND dessert recipes on the site! I love their URL--they ARE creamygood! If you do make cookies, please post on Home Cooking to share. Vandermint (or now the Just Desserts version) is on my list of items to buy to pour over ice cream. I have to wait for our mint to grow back. It was one of the best ice creams I ever had and would be taken to a whole new level with a pour one of these liqueurs! New meaning to "Dutch treat!"

                And thanks for the TJ tip (as if I need to seek more calories at Christmastime, HA HA)!

      2. Japan- Shochu. Until 2003 beer has been the alcoholic beverage of choice in Japan for many, many decades. Sake was a very distant runner-up. Since 2003 Shochu has been the big drink in Japan.

        Shochu took over from beer a few years ago as the most drunk libation in Japan. The term mainly means spirits. It is lower in proof than most, at around 25-35% abv. It's usually drunk on the rocks, watered down 50%, or in winter, watered down 50% with hot water. It's always drunk with food, not sushi, but sashimi and cooked and marinated items. Shochu cocktails are just starting to become popular, but not overwhelmingly so.

        It can be made from any of apx. 30 ingredients, although usually no more than 2 or rarely 3 are blended in any one shochu. The main ingredients are: Rice, barley, sweet potato, buckwheat (soba), brown sugar, etc. sometimes including chestnut, sesame, shiso, or even milk. My favorite are the sweet potato ones. Just about any Japanese shochu I have tasted is excellent. Come to think of it I haven't had anyone that were less than very good. Awamori is a type of shochu made on the Japanese island of Okinawa.

        1 Reply
        1. re: JMF

          Great stuff. Though, I would say that the figures on the consumption of shochu reflect the consumption of the "korui" type that is mixed in "cocktails". I would call shochu cocktails overwhelmingly popular in Japan and the real driver of things. But they aren't the highfalutin, mixology type of cocktails we think of. Mostly just mixing with tea or fruit juice. But as you well know, the otsurui shochu thing is what is really booming and what we really would call a fine spirit........Also, I believe the shiso variant is flavored, not actually made from shiso. But maybe you have other info...

        2. Korea- Soju, similar to japanese shochu, but usually not as fine a spirit. Some are good and some are not.

          1. Greece- Ouzo

            Mediterranean and middle East countries like Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, Jordan and Palestine - Arak sometimes spelled Arrack.

            South Asia and South East Asia- Arrack or Alak

            1. The USA- Bourbon and Rye Whiskey, also the cocktail.

              England- Hard Cider, Ale, dry Gin.

              Holland- Genever (The predecessor to gin.) Drunk as cold shots with dinner.

              1 Reply
              1. re: JMF

                As an amusing aside, when RTD's first came out about 15 years ago, they were such a hit in the UK that there were periods where ACNeilsen scan data showed greater sales of certain RTD's than milk.

                RTD's = Ready to Drink i.e. Smirnoff Ice however I think it was Hooper's Hooch that was the big one at that time in the UK.

                I can't vouch 100% for the veracity of the statement as I never actually saw the Neilsen data but I do know they were absolutly HUGE in the mid-90's and still are an important part of the UK drinks business.

                And if true, it is awesome. "Brits like booze more than milk!"

              2. Italy = Grappa.

                Made by distilling the grape residue left over after pressing grapes to make wine. It is usually served after dinner as a digestive (digestivo). It's also added to espresso to create "caffe corretto" and in this form is drunk any time of the day.

                  1. re: qbdave

                    Chile is also very much big on Pisco.

                    1. re: qbdave

                      A pisco sour is a cocktail made with pisco, the spirit (it's a brandy, i.e., a grape spirit).

                      1. Bolivia - singani
                        Peru - pisco
                        Mexico - mezcal
                        Colombia - aguardiente
                        Philippines - lambanog
                        Laos - clear distilled rice liquor made in the countryside (version of arrak)
                        Brazil - cachaca
                        Bhutan - countryside distilled barley or millet liquor (another arrak)
                        Ex-Soviet countries - vodka
                        Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam - different national versions of of the cheap, cane-based rum colored hangover inducing "Mekong"

                        1. Don't forget these...

                          Scotland: Scotch Malt Whisky
                          Ireland: Irish Whiskey
                          Canada: Canadian Whisky
                          France: Brandy (Cognac, Armagnac, Calvados, etc.)
                          Spain: Sherry
                          Portugal: Port
                          Southern Mexico: Mezcal
                          The Caribbean: Rum

                          17 Replies
                          1. re: sku

                            Bermuda: Gosling's Black Rum

                            1. re: Athena

                              OMG, we love that stuff. Dark & Stormys are a favorite drink we found in Bermuda, and you have to use Gosling's Black Rum.

                              1. re: sbgirl

                                On a cruise to Bermuda I went shopping at Goslings. I wanted to buy a bottle or regular 80 proof, and a bottle of 151proof. The man behind the counter asked if I have ever had their 151 before. I told him that I hadn't and he then refused to sell it to me. I told him I am 48 years old, what do I need, a note from my mother? How am I supposed to learn? The Goslings has a wonderful rum flavor, reminiscent of Italian Rum cake of my youth.

                                College is not a country but, beer is the drink.

                                Puerto Rico: Rum

                                1. re: phantomdoc

                                  Uh, no.
                                  Cuba: Rum
                                  Puerto Rico: imitation of whatever Cuba's got goin' on.

                                  Dominican Republic: Mamajuana

                                  EDIT: Oops, not available in the US. Sorry.

                                  1. re: Alcachofa

                                    uh, no

                                    rum came from any and all of the islands where sugar plantations were, with a liklihood that barbados was the 1st producer

                                    1. re: Alcachofa

                                      Dominican Republic: Massive quantities of Brugal...preferrably "Brugal Anejo" (which IS available in the US).

                              2. re: sku

                                In addition to Tequila & Mezcal... also add Rum to the Mexican list (although not widely known the high altitude rums of Veracruz are among the very best in the world and have been around centuries before the well regarded Tequila Distilleries ever opened).

                                The 15 & 20 year aged Ron Mocambo are a good way to begin exploring the rums of Veracruz.

                                  1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                    Continuing... while Tequila is the Global Face of Mexican spirits... it certainly is not the most widely consumed spirit in every region:

                                    Mezcal dominates Western Mexico south of Jalisco
                                    Tequila dominates Western & Central Mexico Jalisco & north, as well as the largest cities
                                    Rum dominates Veracruz
                                    Xtabentun & Balche dominate the Yucatan
                                    Damiana dominates Baja California Sur
                                    Isthmus of Tehuantepec is dominated by no single spirit collectively by artisinal Fruit & Nut liquors (there are several dozen popular flavors)

                                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                      i'm intrigued by nut liquors -- never even heard of them. <does amaretto count, though?>

                                      1. re: alkapal

                                        Maybe there is a good quality Amaretto on the market that isn't made from extract... in Southern Mexico (particularly the Isthmus region)... liqueurs are made from Almond, Pecan & Pumpkin Seed.

                                        The basic recipe is to crush the nuts with a meat pounder then macerate with spices, herbs in a higher quality grain or sugar cane alcohol... vacuum seal... put them out in the Sun... shaking from time to time for about 40 days... strain but reserve the solids.... then you take the liquid & make into a syrup... return back to the bottle with the solids... macerate another 2 weeks... strain with a cloth and bottle in asceptic glass... age at least 3 months... voila.

                                        1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                          Amaretto isn't flavored with almonds, but with apricot kernels, which I think might be what alkapal was getting at when she asked if it counts.

                                          Those Mexican nut liqueurs do sound good.

                                          1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                            Ha, ha... my bad. This whole time I am thinking it was suppossed to be an Almond flavor liqueur.

                                            There are so many different liquers & spirits in Mexico its not even funny... I highly recommend anybody traveling there to search out the Tianguis & Mercados where most of the artisinal stuff can be found. And of course there are also lots of stuff put out by more formal distillers that we all forget about.

                                            Here is the Mexico City wannabe, camcording version of Zimmern trying Mezcal Cream based flavored liquers from a street vendor: I believe the light tan version is the Pecan.


                                            Edit: For those that have never had Mezcal Cream (Crema de Mezcal) its uncut Mezcal (100 to 120 proof) that is blended with Agave syrup.... so its sweeter, less intense than regular Mezcal but still a very potent, dessert spirit.


                                            1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                              Apricot kernels and bitter almonds have shared volatile compounds, so amaretto has an almond flavor without being made from almonds.

                                              1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                                We bought and ate dried apricot pits (the inner part?) and at first thought they were almonds - in Tajikistan.

                                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                  Yes, it's the inner part - crack open the pit, and there's a kernel inside that's soft enough to eat. Both apricot kernels and bitter almonds contain amygdalin (cyanide glucoside), incidentally.

                                        2. re: alkapal

                                          Can I put a plug in for Acorn liqueur (liquor de bellota?), which is popular in Extremadura Spain. I haven't had it in years, but I distinctly remember what a revelatory moment it was when I had it. Delicious.

                                  2. in addition to "ouzo" from greece, i would also add "metaxa brandy" - my favorite is the 7 star, i even prefer it to the 12 star!

                                    also, plum brandy, sometimes called "slivo" (s is pronounced sh) or "slivovitzch" from the mess known as yugoslavia, serbia, croatia, montenegro, etc. - take your pick.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: justanotherpenguin

                                      i had a romanian client who brought me plum brandy. it was unopened in my car, but by the end of the evening, my car smelled like a plum brandy distillery! wow that was some potent stuff!

                                      1. re: alkapal

                                        We were drinking plum brandy one night that my (now ex) husband had brought home from Hungary. Some dripped on the table. It didn't just leave a spot on the finish--it ATE through the finish all the way to the wood!

                                      1. re: Cachetes

                                        Czech Republic = Becherovka
                                        Ireland = potin (pronounced potcheen)
                                        Colombia = aguardiente

                                          1. Ok you've all given me some amazing suggestions, now short of actually going to these countries, what is the best way to buy them in the US?

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: hungry_fox

                                              I hear that they have these things now called liquor stores... you can go to them, and they sell all kinds of stuff. Seriously though, availability is probably going to be determined by where you live. If you're in Chicago or L.A. or San Francisco or New York, you stand a better chance of finding a broader selection than in a small area. A lot of the things people have listed here are pretty obscure, and probably hard to find anywhere unless you go to a place with a large concentration of immigrants from a particular part of the world. For example, I live in an area with a large Armenian population, and even the corner stores carry a pretty big selection of Armenian brandy (never bought any btw.).

                                              I think your best bet would be to seek out a local store that carries a decent selection, and maybe ask a salesperson. You said you're on a student budget, so you want to avoid top shelf or heavily marked-up, over-hyped brands. I would suggest trying to get a decent Scotch (too many options to really discuss in this context but ask around), Irish whiskey (Bushmills and Jameson should be easy to find and not terribly pricey, and there are some interesting single malt expression that maybe available), London style dry gin (Broker's in on the money for that style and not too expensive), a Russian or Polish vodka (no need to go too fancy - all vodka is pretty much the same and you're mostly paying for the fancy bottle and ad campaign - Stoli is affordable and competes against the high end stuff in many taste tests), maybe a VS-grade Cognac (to keep with your Analogies theme, VS Cognac is to blended Scotch as XO Cognac is to single malt Scotch - roughly). Almost every Caribbean country has its style of rum, so you have a lot of options there, but a good sipping rum to try is Appleton Extra from Jamaica. Other than that, you can maybe try a Brazilian cachaca (not really a rum, more like a sugarcane brandy) or Chilean or Peruvian pisco (clear grape brandy). These maybe hard to come by, and most stores that carry them only have one or two brands, so that takes a lot of the guesswork out. Italian grappa (grape pomace brandy) is another category that's too big to discuss here, and one which I know absolutely nothing about).

                                              If you still have time/money, you can start thinking about cordials, bitters, aperitifs, digestifs, etc. But that's another story for another day...

                                              1. re: hungry_fox

                                                If you don't see what you want at a liquor store, ask the salesperson if they can order stuff for you. If you're a repeat customer, they'll be more likely to hook you up. Research online to find a particular brand name for some of the things that are a little more uncommon, such as pisco, cachaca, and some of the asian liquors mentioned here. Take time to get to know "the best" liquor stores in your area (I live in a smaller town, so there is only one really good liquor store). Every time I go in, I spend at least half an hour. I don't go that often, but when I do, I try to get a general idea of what they have on their shelves so that I can quickly see if they have anything new, and can remember where things are in case I decide I want a bottle of X. I don't go often, maybe once a month, but when I do I normally drop about $100, and I always buy something I've never had before - a new beer, a different varietal of wine, a different infused vodka...

                                              2. I would really love to see this list compiled, i love it.
                                                Argentina - Frenet (resembles jager)
                                                South Korea - Soju
                                                Thailand - Sang Thaing

                                                4 Replies
                                                1. re: everrock

                                                  thailand - me khong
                                                  goa - cashew fenni
                                                  morocco - mint tea (moroccan whiskey)

                                                  1. re: everrock

                                                    everock, it's spelled "Fernet" and it comes from Italy, although it is very popular in Argentina (mixed with coke) and San Francisco (neat, with a ginger ale chaser). It's like Jager in the sense that it's bitter and herbal, although it's technically a type of Amaro (Italian for "bitter") meant to be drunk as a digestif. In Italy there are hundreds of different Amari (plural) but only a handful are imported into the U.S. Fernet Branca is probably one of the most well-known here.

                                                    1. re: everrock

                                                      everrock and craigasaurus, rworange also mentioned Fernet Branca. You are touching on the specialized world of digestive bitters (Amari, Kräuterlikör), with very long history and popularity in central Europe. (Others with related flavors include Underberg in Germany, further brands in Austria.) I started collecting these from their home countries many years ago and didn't realize Fernet Branca is now fashionable in San Francisco. That does seem to parallel Jägermeister (a classic Schnapps that some years ago became a surprise hit in US campuses and bars -- a dream of every liquor marketing manager).

                                                      On their home soil, broadly speaking the digestive bitters are traditionally medicinal or semi-medicinal. Some Germans might be astounded for example that people now mix Underberg in drinks in the US, it was marketed traditionally as a digestive tonic. Gretel Beer in her classic, flippant English-language "Austrian Cooking" (1954) quipped that Fernet Branca "cures most ills." These products are a window into earlier eras when many liqueurs sold were medicines. (Absinthe also began that way, and also is sometimes classed a "bitters.") Herbal medicine is a deep tradition in central Europe, from Pagan times or earlier, with echoes still visible. The digestive bitters I've mentioned are all based I believe on gentian root (which actually is a digestive stimulant) and the carminative herbs (anise, peppermint), all of which were also used medically in the US until a few decades ago. The well-known US gentian bitters, again with related flavor and the closest US product I know to all of these, is Angostura. I see these all as niche products though, rather than the representative spirits of their home countries.

                                                      1. re: eatzalot

                                                        eatzalot, I'd agree that gentian-derived bitters are more niche products than representatives spirits. Also, as much as I enjoy this very erudite conversation, I don't think it's doing much to answer the original question! That said, Fernet Branca is pretty widely available in the United States, so hungry fox should be able to track some down if he so desires.

                                                    2. Didn't spot the following drinks (or details) yet :

                                                      Shochu is not originally Japanese (though the origin is slightly fuzzy) and in the US it is historically associated with Korean restaurants (called "soju" there). 10-12 years ago a California region with many Korean restaurants experienced a scandal when many of them sold soju without proper alcohol license, while those that had one sent spies to the others and informed on them. The fight was resolved by introducing a special license for soju, milder than most spirits, approaching sherry in alcohol strength.

                                                      Enzian in Switzerland (distilled from gentian, which is used in many bitters preparations).

                                                      For Germany I'd argue Schnapps, a large category (aquavit is an example of a Schnapps).

                                                      Slivovitz (plum brandy) was practically the official national drink of Yugoslavia, not surprising as parts of the region are overrun with plum trees.

                                                      Rakia (or rakja or rakya) is an international, Balkan-peninsula term for brandy, found from Turkey to Slavic countries.

                                                      France has long consumed brandies in various forms but the first really popular, mainstream, spirit beverage there was absinthe, in the 1800s. In fact, a major reason why absinthe became notorious was rapid production growth in a country with a limited liquor industry, and consequent issues of unsafe distillation, adulterants, etc. When absinthe was banned there, its close relatives remained popular; the whole family is termed "pastis."

                                                      1. Hungary: Unterberg and Barac Palinka
                                                        Austria: Stroh 160