World's Strangest Liquors
Pizza BeerIllinois, U.S.A.
Description: In 2006, Tom and Athena Seefurth wanted to create a beer that would “pair with our favorite food.” Pizza beer was born. The couple has since gone commercial, hand-chopping the hundreds of pounds of wheat crust, garlic, oregano, tomato, and basil for their malty concoction. But you won’t need to chew to down the brew; pizza beer is 100 percent debris-free-the ingredients are filtered after steeping, leaving just a soupçon of the “essence of pizza.”
Snake Bile Wine (Ruou Mat Ran or ruợu mặt rắn)Vietnam
Description: Served at specialty restaurants all over Vietnam, this delicacy is prepared tableside by a handler who slices open a live cobra’s gallbladder and blends its bile with rice wine. Traditionally, the greenish-black mixture is served as an invigorating aperitif to subsequent courses made from the remaining parts of the snake. Men are strongly advised to ingest the drink, which allegedly endows virility and a host of other health benefits.
Where to Find It: In restaurants specializing in exotic meats all over Vietnam, including Huang Rung restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City.
O2 Sparkling VodkaEngland
Description: English Distillers International is injecting vodka with CO2 (and calling it O2, no less). Made from a blend of malted wheat and barley, O2 is distilled and filtered three times in copper pot stills before it’s infused with bubbles—a secret, patented process. The result is a smooth, clean-tasting vodka that tingles with effervescence.
Description: Once consumed in Incan ritual sacrifices and festivals, chicha (corn beer) is still prepared in the traditional way: women in remote Andean villages chew maize and spit the pulp into earthenware jars of warm water, where it’s left to ferment. The resulting milky yellow liquid is then served in hollowed-out gourds called pilche. Yucca, plantains, and pineapples are just a few of the regional variations.
Where to Find It: In chicherias in Cuzco and Lima, especially near the central markets and off backstreets, and in rural villages in the Andes; look for houses with a red or white flag hung above the doorway—the sign that a fresh batch of chicha is for sale.World's Strangest Liquors
Lizard Wine (Hejie Jiu)China
Description: Valued for its medicinal qualities, the lizard (usually a gecko) is a key ingredient in one of China’s strongest alcoholic drinks. Typically, the reptile (the more poisonous, the more potent) marinates, whole, in bottles of rice wine or whiskey from 10 days to one year; its glassy-eyed stare is said to scare away cancer, arthritis, and ulcers, among other nefarious ills. Hejie jiu is served by the shot—usually in restaurants where exotic meats are sold.
Where to Find It: In restaurants, souvenir shops, and grocery stores (which sell small bottles containing their own individual lizards) around China.World's Strangest Liquors
Description: This Russian summertime beverage made from fermented cubes of stale black or rye bread is just as widespread as vodka, the country’s other brew of fame. Dating back to antiquity, the traditional drink transcended the classes and was consumed by both peasants and nobles alike. Made by pouring hot water over bread baked into croutons, which are then left to ferment in wooden tubs, the concoction is frequently flavored with mint, berries, or raisins. Vendors in Russia’s residential neighborhoods pump the amber brew into jugs from wheeled yellow tanks.
Description: This tangy, yogurt-based liqueur may be made in Holland and bottled in France, but its target market is strictly Japan. Drunk straight or mixed with orange or pineapple juice, the creamy, fruity-sweet combo is especially popular among the health-conscious. But when asked about the calcium content of Yogurito, a Suntory representative remarked, “Yogurito is made from yogurt and tastes like yogurt, but is not yogurt. We cannot say that it’s healthy.”
Coffee BeerBig Island, Hawaii
Description: Kona Brewing Company’s seasonal coffee beers—the Pipeline Porter and Da Grind Buzz Imperial Stout—ingeniously marry two powerful substances: alcohol and caffeine. Created by Oregon transplants and father-and-son team Cameron Healy and Spoon Khalsa, the eclectic brews are made from 100 percent Kona coffee grown on the nearby Cornwell Estate.
Description: A series of TV ads in the 1960s touted Cynar’s ability to “fight the stress of modern life.” Today, this medicinal aperitif-digestif from Italy is still promoted for its health-enhancing qualities. Based on artichokes and infused with 13 herbs and plants, “all-natural” Cynar is the V8 of liquors, retaining (claims Campari, its maker) all of the nutrients of its original ingredients. Imbibers will absorb artichoke cynarin, an active ingredient said to reduce the risk of heart disease and blood clots. The tonic is most often sipped up or on the rocks but can also be used in cocktails as a mixer, or added to beer for a bitter kick.
Description: Distilled from fermented agave cactus mash, mezcal catapulted to notoriety when an importer deployed a successful marketing scheme in the 1940s: the addition of a worm to the bottle. Technically one of two types of larva (snout weevil or caterpillar), the “worm” is coveted for its hallucinatory properties, but worm-snackers beware: some of them are plastic.
Where to Find It: Mezcal is distributed all over the world, often found on the shelf next to tequila.World's Strangest Liquors