By Amanda Little
Spirits have been a part of all cultures around the world, and while some are wonderful, some are odd, others are downright gross. Mingling with traditions and culture, get a taste of history by trying the oldest local drinks.
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Reindeer Antler Whiskey
Sip slowly on a traditional Thai whiskey, made from rice grain and infused with medicinal herbs, ginseng root, and real reindeer antlers. After fermenting for several months in a clay pot, the whiskey is filtered and bottled. Said to improve wellbeing and bring you higher social status, the spirit has an earthy finish, a woody aroma, and is the tamest drink on this list.
What do you get when you take a dead seagull and stuff it whole into a bottle of water?
Seagull Wine is said to be invented by the Inuits and is a little tricky to find outside of the frozen north, and even then, it isn’t something found in many liquor stores. Left to ferment in the sun, the drink hardly goes down smooth. However, what is lacks in taste it more than makes up for in potency, and offers a truly spectacular hangover.
The Aunt Roberta
The faint of heart or light of weight should avoid old Aunt Roberta, and not because she pinches your cheeks too hard and keeps asking when you’ll finally get married. The Aunt Roberta is a drink served up in Alabama uncut by any mixers. At 100% alcohol, the drink contains gin, vodka, brandy, absinthe, and blackberry liqueur. Throw it back with the locals, if you can.
Tarantula Venom Cocktail
This particular cocktail took 5 days of experimental mixology to perfect, because it contains what would be a dangerous ingredient if served improperly: tarantula venom.
The Aragog in Mexico city is made with Mexican mezcal, Chilean pisco, Brazilian cachaca, mango juice, and a touch of lemon. If the three different kinds of alcohol wasn’t enough to give you a buzz, the tiny drop of tarantula venom will make your lips tingle, your tongue go numb and your throat tickle.
With a doctor's consultation and a partnership with laboratories supplying pure tarantula venom, the drink is safe to consume, but only for the hardy, or foolhardy.
La Galvaude Caesar
Head north for a drink that might be more soup than drink. Perfectly suited for the harsh north, the La Galvaude Caesar gets some of its warmth from the vodka in it, but the other ingredients are chick peas, chicken stock, tomato juice, and poutine sauce. Step into Bar Vintage in Montreal to sip this hearty concoction that will keep you warm when the snow is piled high outside.
Unless you want to disrespect your host in Mongolia, don't turn down the customary offer of airag upon arriving. Their drink is made of fermented horse milk, and is said to refresh drinkers and "sparkle" on your tongue, but that just might be the alcohol talking. Served in a small bowl upon entering a house, make sure you take a sip of this slightly sour wine. You might even like it!
Mezcal is a little like tequila, but its made from distilled agave by extracting the heart of the spiky desert plant, roasting it, smashing it to a pulp, adding water, and allowing it to ferment in barrels. Flavor ranges from a biting bitter taste, called joven, to a smoother and smoky taste, añejo. Before bottling it, distilleries add the final ingredient, the gusano, or worm.
The worm is actually moth larvae that live in the same agave plants harvested for the spirit, and it works out well. If the larvae wasn’t harvested, they would destroy the crop. Wild stories surround the worm, claiming it has mystical properties, ranging from being an aphrodisiac to a hallucinogenic, to just making you drunker. The only way to find out is to eat it, if you’ve got the guts!
Baby Mice Wine
Said to be a health tonic in ancient China and Korea that could cure anything from liver disease to asthma, drinking rice wine with about a dozen 3-day-old mice preserved in it hardly inspires a picture of health.
The mice are dropped into the wine before they open their eyes or grow fur, and still alive. Said to have the taste of gasoline, this wine might be best left alone or given to those too drunk to care.
Vietnamese Snake Wine
Made by dropping a whole venomous snake, sometimes alive, into a jar of rice wine or alcohol of choice and left to steep for several months, Vietnamese Snake Wine is certainly eye catching and has quite a bite. Preserved hooded cobras are bottled with the alcohol, and it's completely safe to drink as the alcohol breaks down the venom of the snake. Said to have the essence of the snake in the drink, old tradition says the drink enhances virility and is even an aphrodisiac, but it's much more likely to knock you out instead.
You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow, but the lips have gotta touch the toe.
The truly adventurous can go up to the Sourdough Saloon in Canada, order a drink of their choice, and have an actual, preserved, human toe plunked into their drink.
What started as a miner and rumrunner losing a toe to frostbite in 1920 and storing it in a jar of alcohol has turned into cocktail to test your constitution.
Unfortunately, the first toe was lost when a too-tipsy customer accidentally swallowed it. Since then, seven more toes have been donated to the bar to keep its signature cocktail alive. Only one more toe has been swallowed, this one on purpose, and the bar was forced to change the find from swallowing the toe from $500 to $2,500. The best way to enjoy a Sourtoe is said to have the tip of the toe touch your lips as you finish your drink.