Booze of the world



David Whitley takes an alcoholic trip around the globe to discover some of the hard liquor you’re likely to encounter on your RTW trip.










The city of Pisco is a generally underwhelming port on Peru’s south coast, but it has given its name to the country’s most famous firewater. Pisco is a white grape brandy renowned more for its punch than smoothness of taste. It has a consistency similar to sambuca, and some brands go down a lot easier than others when tackled neat. Those wanting to coat the pill should try it in the form of pisco sour. This pseudo-cocktail combines pisco with egg white, syrup, lemon and a dash of bitters, and it has effectively become Peru’s national drink. 






What the pisco sour is to Peru and Tennent’s Super is to the Glaswegian tramp, the Caipirinha is to Brazil. It is not, as many people seem to think, made with rum. It’s actually made with cachaca, which is similar to rum, but is made from fermented sugar cane juice rather than molasses. It doesn’t have to be drunk as part of a cocktail, although the white, unaged cachaca is best tackled that way. The older it is, the better it tends to be – and some of the gold cachacas can be drunk straight. Otherwise, the caipirinha is pretty simple – just cachaca, sugar and lime.




Central America and the Caribbean


There’s no contest here – only one spirit gets a look-in at being king in this part of the world. And that’s rum, lovely rum. Just about every country in the region has its own distillery, and once you go tasting, you quickly realise that there’s a lot more to life than Bacardi. Top drops to look out for include Barbancourt from Haiti and El Dorado from Venezuela. But the best of the bunch has to be the divine amber nectar produced by the Zacapa distillery in Guatemala. Anyone daring to sully the majestic 23-year-old aged rum with Coke should be taken outside and summarily executed.






Australia has its own rum, and whilst no-one in their right mind would claim Bundaberg Rum is amongst the finest in the world, it has a special place in the Australian psyche. Bundy has long been advertised by a mischievous polar bear, and its effects are legendarily boisterous. Or fighty, if you’re being impolite. Bundy and coke is the Aussie roughnecked, blue-collared version of a bourbon and coke in the southern US. A man’s drink that can’t shed the reputation of those who choose to drink it.




Pacific Islands


It’s called something slightly different everywhere you go in the South Pacific – Kava in Fiji, Ava in Samoa, for example – but it’s much the same thing. The roots of the kava plant (a relation of the pepper bush) are mashed up in water to provide a murky, muddy concoction. It basically tastes of muddy water with a tiny added tingle, but it has supposedly narcotic qualities. You’d have to drink a hell of a lot to feel any more than a numb tongue, but it’s the social function rather than the taste that’s important here. Men – and it is usually men – drink kava either ceremonially or with an unwitting sense of ceremony. Join them, and that’s when conversational doors open.






In the rest of the world, except perhaps Poland, vodka is treated as a mixer drink to be livened up with fruit juice or fizzy pop. In Russia, it is mixed with more vodka. And disturbingly frequently. Russians tend to elevate hard-drinking to an artform, and vodka is traditionally the weapon of choice. It generally has two effects – violence or inhibition loosening. If you’re on the Trans-Siberian Railway for six days, a few bottles of vodka are likely to be the key to making friends and learning about the country.






If ever you want proof that Mexico isn’t really part of Central America, it’s that tequila is the national drink rather than rum. Made mainly in the northern city of the same name, tequila comes from the agave plant – and if you’re wanting proper tequila, it should be 100% agave with nothing added. Cheaper brands often throw in all manner of extras to try and disguise poor quality. Tequila anejo has been aged for at least a year and tends to go down smoothest.


Being the staple of all good dangerous drinking games, tequila has perhaps a rowdier reputation than it deserved. It doesn’t have to be drunk in shots while you snort salt and pour lemon juice in your eye. As for the worm (a supposed aphrodisiac), that’s supposed to go in mezcal, not tequila.






Thai whiskey is to a fine Scotch what Police Academy 7: Mission to Moscow is to LA Confidential. It’s generally drunk because it’s cheap and, outside the tremendously dodgy home-distilled versions, it tends to be lower in alcohol content. More to the point, it’s actually closer to rum, made from a filthy combination of sugar cane and rice. You’ll not avoid it in Thailand – you may even develop a taste for it, but quality is rarely the key criterion.






The Japanese love their beer and whisky, but the local drop is what we call sake. In Japan, that’s the term for alcoholic beverages in general, but foreigners generally mean the rice wine that the country knocks back with gusto.It’s not actually a wine – the brewing process is closer to that of a beer. But it’s stronger than both wine and beer – generally between 18 and 20% unless it’s watered down. A special type of rice - that tastes horrible if you eat it – is used for making sake.It is usually served in small cups, and often with meals in the same way we’d serve wine in the west.

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