Whether sipping an aged scotch, knocking back shots, tasting red wine, or chugging a pint of ale, locals and travelers alike tend to be very fond of their particular style of alcohol. Boozehounds the world over pride themselves on their ability to brew or distill, and then imbue all manner of intoxicating beverages—from the sticky sweet to drinks that can peel paint from cars. Here are some of our picks for the best (and sometimes a wee bit dangerous) hooch choices from around the globe.—Carl Pettit
Aguardiente, the national drink of Colombia, is a bit of murderous concoction as far as what it can do to your senses—especially if you indulge in one too many glasses. Recipes for this “firewater” potion vary depending on location, although the alcohol content (30% or more) is always substantial. In Colombia, anise-flavored aguardiente is distilled from sugarcane and readily enjoyed by the masses.
Insider Tip: If you’re not a fan of anise, give Portuguese or Spanish aguardiente a try, with decidedly different flavors than their Colombian cousin.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Colombia Travel Guide
With the advent of sushi in the West, sake grew in acceptance as well. This staple of Japanese drinking culture comes from brewing rice into a potent “rice wine,” even though the process is more akin to how beer is made. Drink it cold or hot, with your sushi or with whatever food you choose to pair it with. Just make sure you pour for your friends, and they pour for you, which is the traditional way to serve sake.
Insider Tip: Unlike wine, which needs to age, sake should be consumed while it’s still relatively fresh (within a couple of years). Be wary of anyone showing off their 30-year-old sake collection.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Japan Travel Guide
WHERE: Czech Republic
While Becherovka might taste like medicine, it’s the kind of medicine that’s good for your soul—depending on how you feel about a bitter aperitif that can knock you off your feet. This fragrant herbal spirit, made from water coming from the Czech spa town of Karlovy Vary and a fervently guarded secret blend of herbs and spices, can be an acquired taste. But for Czechs and foreign admirers of the stuff, a Becherovka shortage would be a terrible, hard-to-endure tragedy.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Czech Republic Travel Guide
Sweet cachaça, with its smooth sugary taste, can sweep all of your worries away … for a while, at least, until the hangover kicks in. Cachaça, made from sugarcane, is a Brazilian classic perfect for cocktails, like the lime-infused caipirinha (Brazil’s national cocktail). Not at all that dissimilar from rum or certain varieties of aguardiente, Cachaça is adored in the land of its birth, Brazil.
Insider Tip: Cachaça ranges from around 38 to 50 percent alcohol by volume, which should be taken into consideration when mixing caipirinhas for lightweight drinkers.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Brazil Travel Guide
After downing a few shots of Chinese Baijiu, you’ll likely pull a series of a pucker faces. Baijiu (white alcohol) has been around in one form or another for thousands of years. It’s a smash (or smashed-faced) hit in China. This grain spirit, often made from rice, sorghum or wheat, has gained some traction in the West recently, although since it’s widely enjoyed in China, there’s definitely no scarcity of eager customers waiting for a shot of baijiu to punch their senses silly.
Insider Tip: It’s safer to stick to small shot glasses of this potent stuff, and avoid guzzling from the bottle—unless you’re looking for a trip to the hospital.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s China Travel Guide
This fortified Portuguese dessert wine got its start when winemakers in Portugal’s Douro Valley region, using indigenous Portuguese grapes, added brandy before the fermentation process had finished. And voilà, a lovely, aromatic wine was born. Enjoy it with cheese or after a meal, and then thank the Portuguese for coming up with the recipe, and the English who began importing it in the 1700s (during a military tiff with their previous winemaker, France) and helped promote it globally.
Insider Tip: Port comes in varieties such as crusted, late bottled vintage (LBV), ruby, tawny, vintage, and white. The best way to discover the differences is to taste them for yourself.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Portugal Travel Guide
Whiskey from Scotland, called Scotch, is famed the world over. And well it should be. Scotch, known as uisge beathe (water of life) in Gaelic, is in many ways the lifeblood (economic, and for good times) of Scotland. It comes in blended, blended malt, single grain and single malt varieties, enjoyed by millions upon millions of people around the world.
Insider Tip: 39 bottles of Scotch are exported every second, adding up to almost 100 million cases per year, and over a billion individual bottles.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Scotland Travel Guide
The Russian playwright Anton Chekhov once wrote, “Money, like vodka, turns a person into an eccentric.” If that’s really the case, then Russia is a nation full of eccentrics. Legend has it that Russian vodka (distilled from starchy grains or potatoes) came to life when a monk by the name of Isidore perfected the recipe in the mid-15th century at the Chudov Monastery, located inside the Kremlin. And since that fateful time, vodka has been inexorably linked (for good and bad) to the Russian national identify, with high vodka consumption rates blamed for Russian men’s premature deaths when compared to the rest of the West.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Russia Travel Guide
The twice-distilled anise-flavored ouzo is cherished in Greece. This clear-looking spirit, which shares a lot in common with the Turkish drink raki, is Greece’s national drink. The aperitif—purported to also work as an herbal remedy for alleviating aches and pains—is meant to be sipped (no shots) in a glass with some ice. A little ouzo sliding down the gullet is a great way to cool off on a scorcher of a Greek day.
Insider Tip: Ouzo aficionados will tell you the Greek island of Lesvos is where the finest ouzo comes from. If you want to explore ouzo’s roots, Lesvos is definitely the place to go.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Greece Travel Guide
The blue agave flowering plant is the main source of tequila’s intoxicating goodness. For Mexico to slap a bottle with the real “tequila” label, the inebriating liquid in question has to be bottled in Mexico, and has to consist of at least 51% blue agave juice (100% agave tequila is made from 100% blue agave, of course). Exports of this mischief-causing spirit have been on the rise for some time, which means the rest of the world has begun to develop a taste for the extract of the mighty blue agave as well.
Insider Tip: The famous tequila “worm” isn’t in tequila. The little wigglers can be found in bottles of mezcal (made from different types of agave), which has been confused with tequila over the years.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Mexico Travel Guide
When you want a sweet and refreshing cocktail, reach for a mojito and let the syrupy mixture of white rum, lime juice, mint leaves, and soda water cool you down in the most delightful of ways. The mojito, which can trace its somewhat disputed and enigmatic origin story (some tales have the English pirate Sir Francis Drake inventing the cocktail) back 500 years or so, is a mainstay of Cuban life. Delicious and easy to make, mojitos can now be appreciated in cocktail bars and restaurants all over the world.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Cuba Travel Guide
When you have an abundance of palm trees where you live, why not make palm wine? Palm wine, which is produced in India, Indonesian, Malaysia and elsewhere, has legions of admirers in Nigeria as well. Made from the tapped sap (collected by a sapper) of palm trees, sweet-tasting Nigerian palm wine plays a big part in celebrations and social life. Some proponents tout its health benefits too, particularly the medicinal properties of fresh palm wine before fermentation has taken place.
Insider Tip: Depending on the region, palm wine goes by quite a few different names in Nigeria, including emu, nkwu ocha, oguro and more.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Africa and the Middle East Travel Guide
When you visit Italy and you want to drink the good stuff, you’ll need to get a grip on grappa. This brandy, distilled from grape pomace (the leftovers skin and seeds after juicing) yields an assortment of different flavors. It’s the perfect digestif to enjoy after a nourishing Italian meal. Drink it straight, put a small splash in your espresso (a caffècorretto), or even use it for cooking to add a little complexity to a risotto, a veggie dish, or a cut of meat.
Insider Tip: A young grappa should be served chilled, while an aged grappa can be served at room temperature.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Italy Travel Guide
If you’ve ever wished for more snake essence mingled in with your alcoholic beverages, snake wine is here to save the day. Snake wine, with a rice or grain alcohol base—and of course a dead snake—is fairly common in Vietnam and other parts of Asia. Enthusiasts enjoy its strong flavor and alleged therapeutic properties. Brave souls who decide to give it a go can choose between the steeped variety (snake in a bottle) or a simple “cocktail” of snake blood and rice wine mixed together in a glass. Bottoms up!
Insider Tip: Dodgy snake winemakers abound. If you buy a bottle, do some research first and figure out where the bottle came from (a reputable source, hopefully), and make sure the snake is really dead before you open it up.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Vietnam Travel Guide
For many people, a pint (or two or three) of Guinness beer can stand in for a meal, which is why it’s sometimes referred to as “liquid bread.” This dark Irish stout is synonymous with Irish drinking culture. Guinness devotees can thank Arthur Guinness for creating the brew in the 1700s. Since its inception, Guinness has gained a ton of fame for its creamy flavor, and the catchy advertising slogan “Guinness Is Good for You.”
Insider Tip: Guinness is actually fairly low in calories when compared to many other beers, or even a glass of orange juice—as if you needed any more incentive to drink up.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Ireland Travel Guide
Cognac, a brandy produced exclusively in France, is widely enjoyed … by the Chinese. While French wine and wine cultural are globally renowned, the Cognac industry is mainly for export to Asia and North America. Cognac, distilled under the strictest of guidelines, has been enjoyed by the likes of Emperor Napoleon, writer Victor Hugo, and of course, entrepreneur and rapper Sean Combs, with the latter extolling the virtues of Cognac (Courvoisier) in rhyme.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s France Travel Guide
Gin, a spirit with a juniper berry base, can vary extensively in taste depending on the recipe being used. Gin makers can add angelica, cinnamon, coriander, cubeb berries, ginger, grains of paradise, lemon peel, licorice root, nutmeg, orange peel, and host of other botanicals to give a gin is individual characteristics. While gin itself and gin & tonic are strongly identified with England, the drink, which used to be thought of as a medicinal herbal tonic, actually got its start in the Netherlands, where it was stamped with the nickname “Dutch courage.”
Insider Tip: Gin’s flavor really does come from the botanicals, so if one type of gin isn’t to your liking, sample a few other brands until you find the perfect fit.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s England Travel Guide
In South America, the influences of thirsty Spanish Conquistadores and entrepreneurial Jesuits can be felt in pisco, a Peruvian brandy. This well-liked drink (in Chile and Peru) is perhaps best known in its cocktail form, the pisco sour. Pisco, which comes from fermented grapes like any other brandy, got its name from the port of Pisco, where the brandy was exported, or perhaps the clay pots (also called piscos) that held the grapes during the fermentation process.
Insider Tip: Pisco comes in three different types: Puro (pure, from one grape variety), acholado (blended) and Mosto Verde (a lighter and sweeter pisco).
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Peru Travel Guide
Akevitt, also going by the name of akvavit or aquavit (water of life), is a spicy spirit from Norway and Scandinavia. Distilled from potatoes and aged in oak barrels, akevitt’s characteristic flavor comes from caraway seeds, as well as anise, cardamom, citrus, cumin, dill, fennel and other spices. Akevitt is a mainstay of Scandinavian drinking culture, which means if you attend a celebration in the frozen reaches of Norway or Sweden, a glass of akevitt will likely find its way into your hands, followed by the sound of a hearty skål (cheers).
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Norway Travel Guide
WHERE: South Africa
For drinkers hunting for something really sweet, South Africa’s Amarula is bound to satisfy their sugar and booze cravings all in one go. This rich cream liqueur gets its unique taste from the fruit of the African marula tree. Amarula is similar to Baileys Irish Cream to some degree, but with a blend of citrus tang added to the mix. It’s only been around since the 1980s, but for fans of fragrant liqueurs, it’s already made quite a saucy splash.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s South Africa Travel Guide