Either officially, or unofficially, every country has their very own ‘National Drink’. Some have such deep cultural and traditional origins, while others have more a more simplistic significance. Despite their backgrounds, it is always fascinating to learn about alcoholic beverages, especially when some call it the “Nectar of the Gods” or even “Water of Life”.
Norway – Akevitt
A potato-based spirit which is seasoned with indigenous herbs such as caraway seeds, anise, dill, fennel and coriander. This drink has a strength of 40% and is traditionally served during Christmas. The Akevitt differs from the Danish and Swedish versions of the drink in that it uses Norwegian Potatoes (of course), and is aged for at least six months.
Philippines – Lambanog
This coconut-based drink is a real kicker as it has an alcohol percentage of about 90 proof (45%). This clear-looking wine can also be the Filipino moonshine as it historically used to be produced in homes. Today, there are several commercial versions of the stuff with various crazy flavors from fruit flavors to even bubblegum flavor. The best and most traditional types, however, can be found in street-side stalls along provincial roads on bottles that are sometimes unlabeled as it’s a homemade product.
Japan – Sake
Sake is a rice wine that is usually served during ceremonies. It has a mild alcohol content at just about 16%, though stronger versions also come in at around 20%. Sake is an interesting drink to serve as there are just so many ways to go about doing it. It can be served warm, chill, or simply at room temperature. It can be poured into various traditional containers like saucers, tiny shot glasses called ochoko, or even a rustic wooden cubic cup called a masu, which is ironically also the receptacle used to measure rice.
South Korea – Soju
With a smell akin to rubbing alcohol, South Korean Soju could be called Baby Vodka by Russian drinkers, but as it’s the fastest selling hard drink in Korea, there’s something that makes you unable to stop once you pop one open. Diluted Soju kicks at 25% and originates from the post-Korean War times when food was scarce so the government had required for Soju to be watered down to reduce its consumption of rice, wheat, and barley; either one of which, used to be its base. The colorless drink can go up to 45% in strength depending on its production, and there are various ways to flavor it. One of the more luxurious flavors is ginseng. Soju is bound to a strict and sophisticated serving etiquette. One of the most basic rules is that you can’t pour some out for yourself, someone always has to pour it for you.
Germany – Schnapps
Schnapps is a loose term referring to various German-made fruit or herb flavored drinks. These grain based drinks usually clock in at around 20% alcohol content. One of the most interesting Schnapps is the drink called Poire Williams, a Pear flavored Schnapps drink in which a whole pear is sometimes placed in the bottle. This is achieved by attaching the bottle to a young Pear tree just when it’s about to bear fruit. Other Schnapps drinks include Kirsch (Morello Cherries), Marillenschnaps (Apricot), Himbeergeist (Raspberries), and Zwetschgenwasser (Plums).
China – Maotai
Maotai is a drink that is named after the town that it is produced in, and its origins date all the way back to the mid-1600s: the early decades of the Qing Dynasty. The drink evolved from developing distillation techniques of the time and is based on fermented Sorghum, a crop. Maotai was officially pronounced as the national drink of China in 1951, and it went on to horde numerous international awards in recognition of its quality and taste. Maotai is served to foreign and local delegates in various political events.
India – Feni
Feni is a coconut or cashew based drink made in Goa, India. The more popular variety can arguably be the Cashew flavored one but as it’s a drink limited by the seasonal harvests of cashew fruits, Coconut Feni is the one which is more readily available throughout the year. Though unofficial as a national drink, the pride Goans have in making and consuming the drink is what makes it significant. Feni is not internationally available but Goans are known to bring a bottle or two abroad to loved ones far away. At an alcohol content of 45%, it’s the best way Goans can bring a piece of home with them.
Sri Lanka – Kasippu
Kasippu is a coconut based drink that kicks in at 33% – 50%. The high alcohol content has much to do with the way the sap from coconut flowers quickly ferment. After fermenting for just a few hours, a primer to Kasippu is made which is called Toddy, and is a light spirit at an alcohol content of just 5% – 7%. After resisting the urge to consume the Toddy itself, workers move the primer spirit along to distill into Kasippu.
Iraq, Israel, many other Middle Eastern countries – Arak
A whopping 40% – 63% is the alcohol content in the Arabian moonshine known as Arak. The word, quite simply meaning ‘condensation’, has been the root for many other languages that have named their alcoholic drinks; including the Filipino “Alak” and Sri Lankan “Arrack”, which is also the aforementioned Kasippu. This white-hued drink is diluted in water to make it easier to consume and has a distinct anise flavor that stems from the application of aniseed during the distillation process. As aniseed is only used to flavor the drink, the true base of the drink is classic grapevine. The milky appearance of the drink is attained when the initially pure and clear Arak is mixed in water. The oils of the aniseed stands out, as it cannot properly mix with water.
Brazil – Cachaca
The Brazilian Cachaca is a sugarcane-based spirit that come in around 40% – 50% in alcohol content. Seeped in deep Brazilian roots dating back to times of slavery and forced labor on sugarcane fields, the drink has had numerous names throughout the ages. Included in these names are ones that translate to “Heart Opener”, “Eye-Wash”, “Holy Water”, “Tiger Breath”, and “Fire Water”. Fire Water may seem to be in reference to the burning sensation from a shot of this strong stuff, but the innocent mind is mistaken here. The “fire” refers to the burn felt from having sugarcane sap dripped on the whiplashed wounds of slaves who used to work on the fields.