There is no better way of getting to know the world than tasting it and experiencing it with your senses. This is a short guide to 10 spirits worth tasting, even if they can be quite hard to nd in our corner of the world. Specialty stores, bars and travel are, of course, the best ways to get your hands on them and understand the diversity of the spirits world.
Pisco is a grape brandy and the national spirit of Chile and Peru. Although both nations argue about the rights to the appellation of origin, it is important to note that you can nd quality pisco in both countries. It is made by distilling fer- mented grape juice (from several grape varieties, some of which coincide for both countries) into a high-proof spirit. The consumption of pisco is mainly associated with the two most popular cocktails Piscola (locally, especially in Chile) and Pisco Sour (in both countries and in bars worldwide).
Mezcal is the original distilled spirit of Mexico, made from agave. Contrary to Tequila, which can only be distilled from the Tequilana Weber blue variety agave, Mezcal can be made from many agave varieties and is usually produced in Oaxaca although it can come from anywhere in Mexico. The piñas of the agave are cooked in underground ovens that are responsi- ble for giving the spirit its characteristic intense smoky avor. Mezcal is also falsely famous for carrying a worm in the bottle but this is mostly associated with brands that are considered to be for tourists and o er lower quality liquor. It is a serious drink with a lot of history that is typically drunk in shots and, until recently, rarely mixed in cocktails.
3. Rhum Agricole
Rhum agricole is distilled from sugar cane juice and is a style of rum coming from the French Caribbean islands. Contrary to most rum that is distilled from molasses, rhum agricole has a very di erent aromatic pro le. It is a spirit that is fruity and dry and one in which you can often nd vegetal notes. If you taste it, chances are you will either love it or hate it. Then, if you nd out you appreciate it, do go on exploring with Cachaça, the national spirit of Brazil which is also distilled from sugar cane juice. Then make an e ort to travel as far as the island of Madeira where you will also nd some amazing sugar cane spirits.
Baijiu is the national spirit of China, making it the most widely consumed spirit in the world. It is usually distilled from fer- mented sorghum but other grains may be used as well. There are several very di erent styles of Baijiu in terms of aromatic pro le with aromas ranging from grass, coconut and pineap- ple to nail polish (not a defect in some styles) and soy sauce. It is typical that Baijiu would have a higher alcohol content (often 52% alcohol by volume) compared to most similar liquors from East Asia and it is a spirit you can explore and be surprised by for a long time.
Calvados is an apple brandy from Normandy, France. You have probably heard of it but never tasted it. It is distilled from cider made from a wide array of apple varieties with very dif- ferent avor pro les and some pear varieties. In order for the distillate to be sold as calvados, it needs to age for at least two years in oak although it often ages for longer than that. Qual- ity calvados should, therefore, have an aromatic pro le that you easily associate with apples and pears plus some avours associated with aging. In terms of consumption, calvados is a very versatile drink because it can be served as an apéritif, in-between meals, used in cocktails, and even as a digestif, or with coffee.
Arak is a wine brandy in the anis drinks family. You can nd it in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and other adjacent countries with some variations in terms of style. It is avored with anise but no licorice or botanicals associated with Pastis. Quality arak is often aged in clay amphoras, giving it smooth mouthfeel.
Aquavit (can also be spelled as akvavit or akevitt) is a a- voured spirit that is mainly produced in Scandinavian countries where it is commonly drunk during festive occa- sions and as an aperitif. Just like vodka, it is distilled from either grain or potatoes. After that it is flavoured and the flavour profile of aquavit includes caraway and dill (present very often), cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, aniseed, fennel, licorice and lemon or orange peel. Aquavit can be clear and golden but in both styles a quality aquavit should be smooth and exhibit a great balance between the alcohol and avourings.
It is likely that you have tasted gin and know it quite well although nowadays the category is going wild. However, jenever is essentially the origin of gin, the “national spirit of Holland” but it is also very popular in Belgium. In terms of avor profile, it is once again based on the juniper plant (jenever is Dutch for juniper) and it is distilled from malt wine and grain wine. There are two styles of jenever – oude (old) and jonge (young). They di er in terms of the distilling process and avor characteristics. To sum up, next time you are in Amsterdam, do look for Jenever, against all odds.
This spirit is distilled from the fermented sap of the coconut tree ower and comes from the Philippines. It is mostly produced in the province of Quezon where the process has been passed down through generations of coconut plantation farmers. Sometimes referred to as coconut vodka, lambanog is often sold avoured. If you get a chance to taste it, go for a well known producer at first.
Our trip around the globe nally takes us to West Africa with another distillate from the fermented sap of various species of palm trees (or palm wine), called Sodabi. It is a drink known by various names, including Koutoukou in the Ivory Coast, Ogogoro in Nigeria and Akpeteshie in Ghana. During the European colonization in Africa the spirit was made illegal because it competed with European liquor imports. Modern day renditions of this palm liquor are infused with tropical avours and spices and made increasingly popular in the US.
There you have it! At this point no bar is too well prepared for your visit but stay open minded and allow yourself to be enchanted.