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Unusual liquors from around the world

Photos logoPhotos 02/01/2019

From Soju in Japan to Raki in Turkey, here is a list of some unusual liquors that are cultural symbols of the countries they come from.

Soju © Yonhap/EPA/Shutterstock Considered to be the national drink of South Korea, Soju is the distilled extract of fermented rice, which has been filtered several times. Although this Korean beverage has been traditionally made from rice, many makers replace the grain with other starches such as wheat, sweet potatoes, or tapioca.
Comparable to very mild vodka, soju is usually served neat over ice and because it lacks flavor, it can be added to cocktails. The alcohol content is usually around 20 percent.

Pisco © Holger Leue/Corbis Made from distilled fermented grape juice, Pisco is a type of brandy produced in the winemaking regions of Peru and Chile. Though both the countries lay claim to its origin, and the issue remains unresolved till date, the produce varies markedly because of the grapes used and the different rules of distillation and storage. It’s a cocktail friendly liquor and first-timers can opt for a pisco sour. The alcohol content ranges from 38 percent to 48 percent.

Tej © Santiago Urquijo/Getty Images Made from fermented honey, this Ethiopian drink is essentially a mead. It is flavored with powdered leaves and twigs of an indigenous species of buckthorn called gesho. The beverage is usually home brewed, but throughout Ethiopia it is available at “tej houses,” which are popular social places. 

People traditionally drink tej from a rounded vase-shaped vessel known as berele, which resembles a Florence flask. Often referred to as the “national drink of Ethiopia,” tej’s alcohol content varies depending on the duration of the fermentation process.

Pulque © Matthew Clemente/Shutterstock This is an ancient Mexican alcoholic beverage, which has been consumed for over 1,000 years. The white, viscous, and slightly fizzy fermented drink is made from the fresh sap that is extracted from the maguey plant. Consumption of this native drink declined owing to the rise in beer’s popularity in the mid-20th century.
In the recent years, however, pulque has made a comeback thanks to interest among younger Mexicans. For the new generation of drinkers, this “sacred” drink is a symbol of Mexican culture and tradition.

Cachaça Bottles of cachaca, a spirit made from fermented sugar cane. Photo by Lisa Wiltse (Photo by Lisa Wiltse/Corbis via Getty Images) © Lisa Wiltse/Getty Images Bottles of cachaca, a spirit made from fermented sugar cane. Photo by Lisa Wiltse (Photo by Lisa Wiltse/Corbis via Getty Images) Cachaça is Brazil’s national spirit, which is often referred to by the misnomer “rum.” While most rums are made from molasses, cachaça is made from fermented sugarcane juice.
Once the Portuguese introduced the sugarcane plant to the country in the 16th century, leading to the Brazilians discovering the production of the spirit, it has gained wide-scale popularity over the years as the main ingredient of the famous tropical cocktail caipirinha – a concoction of sugar, lime juice and the spirit.
The alcohol content of this spirit, by law, ranges between 38-48 percent.

Eiswein © Gilles Bassignac/Getty Images Eiswein is the German name for “ice wine.” It is a kind of dessert wine made of grapes, wherein the wine-maker leaves grapes on the vine after the first frosts, so the grapes literally freeze. The sugars in the fruit do not freeze but the water does, allowing a concentrated and sweet wine to be pressed from the grape. Today, the largest producers are Germany and Canada.

Arrack © DJ Cockburn/Shutterstock It is a distilled alcoholic drink typically produced in South Asia and Southeast Asia. Made from the fermented nectar of coconut flowers, sugarcane, grain or fruit, arrack is the most popular alcoholic drink in countries like Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Philippines.

Rakı © Firat Cetin/Shutterstock This non-sweet alcohol is the national drink of Turkey. Made from grapes and flavored with aniseed, it is similar to several other alcoholic beverages available around the Mediterranean and the Middle East, like pastis, ouzo, and sambuca. People usually drink raki by mixing it with water, a concoction that is of a milky color, which earned it the nickname “lion’s milk.” The drink contains almost 45 percent alcohol.

Akvavit © ImageBroker/Shutterstock Derived from the Latin word aqua vitae, which means “water of life,” this is a flavored spirit produced in Scandinavian countries. Made by distilling fermented potato or grain mash, it is re-distilled in the presence of flavoring agents, then filtered with charcoal. The aromatic flavorings used are caraway or cumin seed and the drink is consumed aplenty during holiday celebrations and Christmas.

Fernet © Monica Schipper/Getty Images for NYCWFF Introduced by Italians and popular in Argentina, it is made from a variety of herbs and spices like myrrh, rhubarb, chamomile, cardamom, aloe, and saffron. The term “bartender’s handshake” initially stood for a neat shot of the drink, though it may now include other liquors too. Usually served as a digestif, it may also be served or mixed with coffee.

Baijiu © Shutterstock This Chinese alcoholic beverage is made by a process of brewing and distilling grains. The name of the drink translates to “white alcohol” and the flavor is earthy since it is aged in mud pits. The fermented grain (sorghum) is heated until it releases steam, which is then collected and allowed to cool. The alcohol content is usually upward of 50 percent.

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