Looking for a change from beer and wine? Look no further than the furthest reaches
of the globe, my friend. Your local liquor store is chock-full of alcohols from all
over the world that you and your friends have likely never tried.
Whether you're serving a full-bodied porto to follow dessert or a bold aperitif to
get your appetite going, when it comes to alcohol, the world is your oyster!
Where it's from: Greece
Taste characteristics: Ouzo is a strong alcohol, usually about 40%, with a powerful
taste of anise, or black licorice. It was introduced as a substitute to absinthe
when the wormwood plant was made illegal.
How to drink it: The Greeks most commonly enjoy it with mezedes -- snacks that usually
include salads, seafood, stewed meats, and vegetables. Hardcore drinkers will shoot
it straight, but it's perfectly acceptable to mix ouzo with water.
Ouzo is usually served as an aperitif and can also be incorporated into a number
of mixed drinks.
Where it's from: Japan
Taste characteristics: Sake is a rice wine that contains about 14% to 16% alcohol.
Its taste is usually quite complex, but good sake should go down smoothly, with a
faint sweetness. Like regular wines, sakes of different qualities have different
How to drink it: Sake is commonly served hot, but the Japanese also enjoy it warm
or over ice, depending on the season and the quality of the wine.
It is a good accompaniment to any Japanese or Thai dish and can usually be served
as you would any table wine.
Where it's from: Lebanon, Jordan and Syria
Taste characteristics: Arak is similar to ouzo in that it's another anise-flavoured
liquor with a bold, fiery taste, and it was also created as a replacement for absinthe.
How to drink it: Called the milk of lions, arak is served with a spread of appetizers,
called mezza, which usually include pita bread, hummus, pickled vegetables, and skewered
Like ouzo, arak is usually served as an aperitif and, accompanied by mezza, it's
generally considered to be the highlight of the meal.
The alcohol with the worm in it, a fine spirit made from wine production leftovers
Where it's from: Mexico
Taste characteristics: Mezcal is a liquor distilled from the heart of the agave plant
with a strong, smoky flavour. It's actually in the same family of liquors as tequila;
all tequila is mezcal, but not all mezcal is tequila. Only mezcal contains a worm
at the bottom of the bottle; tequila does not.
How to drink it: A shot of mezcal, a slice of lemon and a lick of salt is the most
common way to drink it, but purists say there's more to the drink than just that.
You can enjoy a high quality glass of mezcal as you would Scotch or cognac.
Mezcal is the drink of choice in Mexican ceremonies or social activities and is usually
had after a meal.
Where it's from: True porto only comes from Portugal; anything else is just a fortified
Taste characteristics: Porto is a full-bodied, slightly sweet red wine; like wine,
it comes in varying degrees of sweetness.
How to drink it: Port wine is usually served after a meal because it offers such
a strong flavour. Serve it with cheese and crackers and sip it gently.
Where it's from: Pisco is the national drink of both Peru and Chile, though the debate
rages as to which country first invented the drink.
Taste characteristics: Pisco is technically a brandy distilled from white Muscat
grapes, which are native to central Chile and Peru. Its taste characteristics are
similar to wine, with citrus overtones and a strong peppery finish. It contains as
much as 42% alcohol.
How to drink it: Pisco can be served chilled and straight as an aperitif, or in mixed
drinks -- the most popular of which is a Pisco Sour.
Where it's from: Italy
Taste characteristics: Grappa is made from the fermented skins and seeds of grapes
that are left over after winemaking. It has a flowery aroma, a smooth taste and clean
finish, though to the inexperienced palette, it can go down like fire. Its flavour,
like that of wine, depends on the quality and type of grape used. Typical alcohol
content is about 40% to 50%.
How to drink it: It can be served alone before meals or with coffee after meals.
It is usually served chilled, but can also be served at room temperature to allow
the full range of flavours to develop.
Where it's from: Cachaca is the national spirit of Brazil.
Taste characteristics: Cachaca is liquor distilled from unrefined sugar cane. The
fermented juice of the sugar cane is boiled down three times to concentrate its unique
flavour and aroma into the liquor. Its taste is similar to that of rum, with a distinct
scent of sugar cane.
How to drink it: Brazilians enjoy their cachaca most typically in a caipirinha, which
combines the liquor with lime, sugar and ice water. Well-aged cacha can also be served
straight and sipped.
Stick with it
The thing to remember about many of these drinks is that you may not love them on
your first tasting. Stick with them, though. Europeans in particular enjoy stronger-tasting
foods and drinks more than many North Americans do, so what seems strong to you might
be typical fare to them.
Once your palette adjusts to the stronger taste of many of these drinks, you'll be
pleasantly surprised at the depth and subtleties of their tastes. You may even wonder
how you ever did without.