Many countries around the world are inextricably associated with their cuisine. Pasta has become synecdochal of Italy, as has sushi of Japan and curry of India. So prevalent is this trend that whole food groups are referred to in terms of national cuisine – we discuss going out not for chow mein, but for ‘Chinese’. Of course, this is the case with drinks, too – but only to an extent. Any populous city will boast a German-themed bar selling traditional biers, but menus in the average pub are rarely arranged by location – cocktails and wines from all different parts of the world are grouped together by spirit or variety.
Yet, there are various countries which stake passionate claims at being the creators of certain beverages. Whilst many people base whole holidays around trying a particular country’s famous foods, travelling to sample international drinks is a growing trend. New York City-based cocktail blogger, Dan Schweber, from The Bibulous comments on the diverse flavours he has encountered around the world:
“Over the past year, my travels have taken me to South Africa, Switzerland, Scandinavia, Germany, Puerto Rico, Ireland, as well as cities in the U.S. both large and small. I make a point to grab a cocktail at every single destination, even if only there for one night. As a result, I started the 50 Drinks Around the World project with the goal of trying local flavours and meeting cocktail enthusiasts and bartenders in each community that I visit.”
Whilst we all associate sangria with Spanish sunshine and vodka with Russia, there are actually countless national drinks from around the world that are under the radar. However, each year we see that international flavours are influencing drinks trends, from Japanese matcha tea to African baobab juice. So which drinks are next to go from local to global?
Here, we look through twenty of the world’s best national drinks as recommended by top drinks bloggers.
You might think that a list of the most exciting international drinks on the scene would start off with something a little more off-the-wall, but, in fact, a flavour that for many of us very familiar has recently take on a new identity. The drink is traditionally made of the sassafras tree or sarsaparilla vine to create a sweet soda. However, Dan sampled a unique variety of root beer at the Dram & Grain in Washington D.C. He says:
“This drink was a real show of craftsmanship, consisting of bourbon, sherry, sarsaparilla, amaro, and simple syrup. Upon drinking I could easily taste the smokiness of the bourbon, followed by a spicy yet sweet flavour that finished like root beer. The sarsaparilla is a hard-to-find ingredient similar to root beer that toes the line between bitter and sweet. I applaud anyone behind the bar who can master the use of this ingredient.”
This mature take on the classically non-alcoholic root beer has become a huge hit with drinks enthusiasts in the past couple of years. First, it was U.S.-based drinks like Not Your Father’s Root Beer from Small Town Brewery, crafted in Illinois and Forbidden Root in Chicago, which simple made root beer into, well, beer. However, as Dan’s experience illustrates, the individual flavour parts comprising America’s much-loved childhood soda are becoming increasingly popular in inventive cocktails. The subtle sarsaparilla flavour allows these drinks to carefully tread between nostalgic sweetness and grown-up bitterness in a way that we can expect to see more of in the coming years.
Strawberry balsamic martini
One of the most popular trends across the beverage sphere is the incorporation of ostensibly savoury flavours into sweet drinks. This drink has gained quite a reputation for itself, based off the classic combination of strawberries and balsamic vinegar. Mixologists have, of course, been privy to this trick for some years, but only recently has it caught on in earnest.
Katie from the luxury lifestyles blog, Katie Lara, however, is a firm fan of the fashion. She explains:
“My favourite drink with the most interesting flavours are the strawberry balsamic martini, which was the perfectly balanced drink. The balsamic vinegar cut the sweetness perfectly.”
Katie tried the beverage at Boa Steakhouse in California, but the drink has since become popular across the UK and Europe. According to Olive This, balsamic vinegar was first used in cocktails by bartenders seeking an alternative to limes during a shortage. This speaks to a wider inclination among practitioners to replace the old citrus flavours with sources of sourness that are slightly more refined. Balsamic vinegar’s slightly nutty, caramelised undertones add a real richness to the strawberry martini, a trend which is making its presence known on this side of the Atlantic.
Though of Peruvian origin, the pisco sour has become one of North America’s favourite cocktails, and is particularly associated with golden-era America, with stories including the claim that a drunken Ava Gardner had to be carried by John Wayne after consuming too many of the delicious drinks. This amber-toned, creamy drink is made of pisco brandy, key lime or lemon juice, syrup, ice, egg white and Anogstura bitters, so we can hardly blame her!
Dan tried a stand-out pisco sour in North Carolina at The Punch Room in Charlotte. He says
“This was not your father's pisco sour. At The Punch Room, the pisco was poured from a tap into a coupe glass, and it was topped with St. Germain foam. The St. Germain foam blew my mind - an alcoholic whipped cream concoction atop the drink like icing on a cupcake; simply divine! I have never seen anyone else making foam like this, but I have seen pisco growing in popularity and even a few pisco-focused cocktail joints.”
For many, the ultimate drink will always be a well-chilled beer. Well, for some Canadians, chilled is not enough. In Newfoundland, Quidi Vidi Brewery has taken it one step further in the creation of their now-famous Iceberg Beer. Thousands of people visit the area each year to try out the rare beer, which is actually made from the water of icebergs which can reach some twenty-five thousand years old.
Whilst many alternative brewing methods are proliferating in the modern beverages market, iceberg beer is far from a novelty. The iceberg water harvested from the local area creates a clear golden colour and a gently hopped, crisp refreshing taste to the beer that is hard to match. Considering the recent interest in bio-organic wines and beers, these clean flavour palates are influencing natural brewing processes from the source.
South America holds a huge variety of delicious drinks to its name, from experimental cocktails to rums and, of course, wines. However, the area is also famous for its delicious food, so perhaps it should be obvious that these two elements would fuse to make incredible enriched beverages. It is a trend we have also seem further north, with the Canadian Caesar cocktail featuring everything from the usual olives and celery as garnishes to entire meals, with burgers and all on cocktail sticks.
However, the Chilean drink, terremoto, keeps things somewhat more sophisticated, creating a summer drink that it guaranteed to catch on. As Eat Wine Blog explains “Simple white wine known as pipeño gets a BIG scoop of pineapple sorbet on the top. Yes, it is a bonified “wine” float.” This Southern American fermented wine is made incredibly indulgent with the addition of ice cream or sorbet, but it also packs a punch. Allegedly, when waiter Guillermo Valenzuela created the drink for German reported covering the 1895 Santiago earthquake, it was so strong that they proclaimed “Esto sí que es un Terremoto” – “This truly is an earthquake”
Rabbit in the Cup
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Of course, when it comes to blending the kitchen and the bar, it’s not all about indulgence. Following from the surge in demand for smoothies and superfood juices in the past few years, even cocktail menus are getting on-board when it comes to nutrition. In Europe, high-end establishments are incorporating ingredients such as ginger and even carrots into their alcoholic drinks, as Dan experienced in CLOUDS in Zurich, Switzerland.
“I had never seen a carrot cocktail on a menu before, so I knew right away that would be my order. The drink consisted of Hendrick’s gin, carrot juice, and orange juice, and was topped with a cucumber and carrot garnish. This drink wound up being incredibly refreshing, even a bit sweet. I still rarely come across carrot juice on a cocktail menu - but this is an interesting and uncomplicated ingredient I could see spreading in popularity.” With ingredients like carrot, we could even hold out hope of avoiding a fuzzy head the next morning!
We all know about the dispute among Eastern European countries as to who created Rakia, but in Poland and entirely different drink holds national significance. As The Spruce describes, “In Poland, an aged liqueur or cordial is known as nalewka, which literally translates to “tincture.” They are primarily made with fruit, sugar, honey, molasses, herbs and spices macerated in vodka or rectified spirits known as spirytus rektyfikowany. But coffee, flower, honey, and specific spice nalewki like kardamonka (cardamom) exist.”
Often the preferred spirit to vodka, these fruit liqueurs are served in small glasses, after being aged. Whether the drink is flavoured with cardamom (kardamonka), honey, cinnamon and pepper (krambambula) or ginger (imbirowka), these distinctive, punchy flavours are being noticed around the world, as mixologists in all corners of the globe begin adding strong aromatic notes to their creations.
South Africa may be most famous for its rooibos tea when it comes to drinks, but the country doesn’t only use the caffeine-free leaf for tea. As Dan explains, rooibos is widely used in inventive cocktails, with bartenders using techniques as unusual as their flavours to make the drinking a fully immersive experience. He tried an unusual cocktail called a ‘Crematorium’ at the Orphanage Cocktail Emporium in Cape Town, and describes:
“This drink was not only unique and delicious but came with a performance as well. Mixing two types of tequila with rooibos syrup and orange peel, the drink was warmed in a pot then set on fire before serving. Despite consuming a warm drink on a warm night, I enjoyed the boozy, refreshing, and delicious concoction. Rooibos is a popular tea in South Africa, and the syrup is just a concentrated, slightly sweeter version of it. When I think of a unique ingredient I can find nowhere else, this is the first one that comes to mind.”
With all of these tempting cocktails on the international menu, it’s about time we look over the oceans for something to soothe our heads after the global tasting experience to come. Luckily, in Vietnam, one unusual ingredient offers the perfect cure – artichokes, here in the form of tea.
Serious Eats explains: “The go-to drink for hungover Vietnamese men, trà atisô is believed to have liver-cleansing and detoxifying properties. There are two versions of the tea, which is usually served with ice—the sweetened yellowish version made from the artichoke flower and the intensely bitter black version made from the artichoke stems.” The yellow tea is more popular with travellers for its sweetened, nutty flavour, making it a likely contender for on trend coffee shops’ next find.
Israel, Iraq and Lebanon
Popular across various Middle Eastern countries, arak is a Levantine alcoholic spirit while name literally translates as ‘perspiration’. This should give you some idea of what’s in store for you when you drink it! Often containing anise – except for the Persian version, arak saggi, which comprises of raisins or dates – the drink is made of arak mixed with water in a traditional Eastern Mediterranean water vessel called an abarik.
The drink of choice to accompany mezza and barbeques, arak is a drink that only experienced mixologists can conquer due to its very specific preparation. For example, if ice is added after the drink is poured, it will cause an unpleasant layer to form on the surface of the drink, because the ice causes the oils to solidify. Bars often sell bottles of arak with a number of glasses, because the anise flavour makes it preferable not to re-use the glasses. So, if you’re going to try arak, make sure you do it properly!
Dan has almost completed his own 50 Drinks Around the World project, and is always looking for new suggestions on where or what to drink. Connect with him on social media to share tips from your hometown, or tweet me @DivineEatingOut to share your favourite drinks from your global travels!