Sample snake wine in Vietnam
Snake wine might be Chinese in origin, but it’s best-known these days in Vietnam where it’s used as an aphrodisiac or traditional medicine. Luckily the alcohol breaks down the venom of these creepy reptiles, just don’t Google the story of the lady who opened her home-brew to be bitten by the still-live snake sleeping inside.
Celebrate food, wine and rum in Barbados
Barbados’s Food & Wine and Rum festival is an essential experience for rum-lovers. The organisers claim that “any discussion about rum is a discussion about Barbados, and vice versa”. The island is also home to the world’s oldest rum distillery, Mount Gay, founded in 1703, and a thousand or so rum shops.
Discover the magic of mezcal in Mexico
Mezcal is traditionally produced in Oaxaca, where the raw material – agave – grows in abundance. Unlike tequila, which can be made from blue agave only, mezcal can be made from all agave varieties; it’s usually distinguished by a smoky taste. From distilleries to small-scale family enterprises, there are plenty of places to kick off a tasting tour.
Attend the Batalla del Vino in Haro, Spain
If drinking wine sounds a bit dull, head to the town of Haro in Rioja where each year, on the 29th of July, thousands gather to spray grape juice over each other. Oddly it’s traditional to wear white clothing to the Batalla de Vino, though it soon gets stained purple in the juice-squirting madness.
Taste sake in Japan
Nada district near Kobe is the best place to try Japan’s famous rice wine liquor as about thirty per cent of the country’s output comes from here. Be sure to brush up on the drinking ritual: sake should be poured from tokkuri into small cups known as ochoko and it’s polite to pour for your companion using two hands.
Down a wee dram on Islay, Scotland
The beautiful island of Islay, the “Queen of the Hebrides”, is famous for its robust, peaty blends. There are eight distilleries on the island, of which almost all offer guided tours and tastings; Laphroaig and Lagavulin are perhaps most famous. Just be sure you know what you’re doing before adding a splash of water to a single malt.
Go on a gin tour in London, England
Mother’s ruin has undergone a renaissance in Britain’s capital recently and today’s gin scene is a far cry from Hogarth’s sketches. As well as bar-hopping between the best speakeasies, you can also tour distilleries: Sipsmith and the City of London Distillery are excellent places to start your education.
© Bealf Photography/Shutterstock
Learn to love Limoncello in Italy
The best place to try this famous digestif is on the sunny Amalfi Coast, sometimes known as the “Path of the Gods”, where lemons grows in abundance (Italy produces seventy five per cent of the global crop). The origin of the liqueur is disputed, but some claim it was originally invented by monks.
© Andrew Pustiakin/Shutterstock
Tour the sherry bodegas in Spain
No longer your nan’s favourite Christmas treat, sherry, or jerez, is becoming increasingly popular. To learn about the intricacies of the solera system (and discover the story behind some very drunk mice), head to the bodegas of Andalucia. A seaside stop to try a Fino with some fresh seafood is essential.
Go underground in Reims, France
In Champagne, some of the most exciting drinking takes place underground. The cellars of the likes of Pommery, Veuve Clicquot and G.H. Mumm sprawl beneath Reims, storing wines on their lees for at least three years. Tattinger is one of the more fascinating caves, built in Roman chalk pits beneath the ruins of Abbaye Saint Nicaise.
Party hard at Oktoberfest, Germany
Beer lovers know there’s only one festival that counts. Munich’s Oktoberfest attracts six million punters at the end of September each year, who come to feast on Bavarian specialties and drink their bodyweight in one-litre steins. Traditional dress, or tracht, is an optional extra.
Take a vodka tour in Krakow, Poland
Vodka, here known as wódka, has been part of Polish culture for centuries. The country is at the heart of the “vodka belt” and one of the most famous brands, Zubrówka, has been produced here for over six hundred years. The spirit should be drunk straight and chilled. Remember to toast – “na zdrowie” – before you neck it.
Wend your way through Welsh wineries
Wales might not be the first place that springs to mind for a wine-tasting tour, but there’s a burgeoning crop of boutique wineries, particularly in the Wye Valley. Most of the wines are dry, perfumed whites, though you’ll also find a few interesting reds and sparklers, plus ciders and perries.
Celebrate St Paddy’s with Guinness in Dublin, Ireland
The black stuff has been brewed in Dublin since the 1700s. These days we might not buy into the hype that Guinness is good for you, but it’s still common belief that a pint tastes better on home turf. Aside from a pub-crawl to sample the city’s wares, you can also tour the Guinness Storehouse or drop by for the Paddy’s day parties.
Follow in the Inca’s Chicha footsteps in Bolivia
Once you’ve trekked the Inca trail in Peru, head to Bolivia to try the traditional Inca drink, chicha. Made from fermented maize, it was originally used as part of religious ceremonies. Today it’s Bolivia’s national drink and still makes an appearance at festivals across the country.
Try toddy in Kerala, India
Palm sap wine or toddy is found all across Southeast Asia but is especially popular in Kerala, where it’s commonly known as kallu. It’s made by fermenting sap tapped from coconut and date palms for 24 hours or so until mildly alcoholic. The flavour is distinctive, and might take a little getting used to.
Toddy, Kerala, India © Santhosh Varghese/Shutterstock
Sip a port in Porto, Portugal
There’s only one drink to try in Portugal’s second city: the fortified wine, port. By the river in Vila Nova de Gaia you can sample rubies and tawnies with expert guidance. Indigenous varietals such as Touriga Nacional and Touriga Francesa have been grown in the nearby Douro Valley since the 1700s, and the process has been honed to perfection.
Douro Valley © hermitis/Shutterstock
Mix a pisco sour in Peru or Chile
Both Peru and Chile lay claim to being the home of this famous grape brandy, supposedly bought to South America in the sixteenth century. Debate rages on, but the recipe for a refreshing pisco sour – pisco, lemon juice, egg white and a splash of Angoustura bitters – is unquestionable.
Meet the green fairy in Paris, France
Few drinks hold as many literary associations as absinthe, known as the fee verte, or green fairy, among bohemian writers and impressionists in the nineteenth century. Today you can still enjoy a l’heure verte in Paris, following the classic la louche ritual of dissolving a sugar cube on a slotted spoon over the liqueur.
Go mad for Malbec in Mendoza, Argentina
Few vistas can match the sight of rows of vines against the snow-capped Andes. The main grape to taste in Mendoza is, of course, Malbec, but you might be surprised by Argentina’s signature white, the highly perfumed Torrontes. Hire a remise to drive you around allowing you to drink uninterrupted.