One of the most reliable ways to get under the skin of a destination is to eat and drink the local specialities. We’ve rounded up some enticing destinations for the discerning drinker - if you enjoy sampling your way through your holiday, here are some ideas for what to look out for. Cheers!
A South American favourite, pisco is a clear brandy made by distilling grapes with a high sugar concentration. In the early days of viticulture in Peru and Chile, most pisco was distilled from the fruit of vines that had been brought with the conquistadors from Spain. However, those vines have since evolved into unique South American varietals that are specifically grown for pisco production. Peruvian pisco is considered the more refined and is the base note of the famous pisco sour cocktail - a mixture of egg white, syrup, lime juice, and bitters.
Wine - South Africa
Much of the wine growing territory in South Africa is located in the environs of Cape Town. The two great oceans that meet at the cape, the Atlantic and the Indian, exert considerable influence on the climate of the Winelands. The three major wine regions of Stellenbosch, Paarl and Constantia are perfect for a few days cruising, stopping off at historic wineries to admire the cape Dutch architecture and enjoy a testing or two. Pinotage and Chenin Blanc are the most famous varieties though there are now many others grown in the region too.
Baijiu - China
Despite the fact that this spirit is barely known in the western world it is a big deal in China - Baijiu makes up over 50% of the country’s alcohol sales. In fact, due to its popularity, this clear grain spirit actually accounts for almost one third of global sales of spirits. Baijiu is distilled from different grains depending on the region of China it is produced in. Southern provinces of China tend to use glutinous rice while more northerly provinces use sorghum and sometimes barley or wheat. There are many variations of the Chinese national spirit and, to an expert, the subtleties of flavour and aroma are endless. To the uninitiated, Baijiu is akin to a rough vodka although there are more refined versions available if you know what you are looking for. Entry level Baijiu would be the Fēng Xiāng style, with its gentle honeyed flavour. All varieties are usually served at ambient temperature in pottery cups.
Arak - Middle East
A traditional anise flavoured spirit in the same family as ouzo or pastis, Arak is a refreshing way to drink alcohol. The spirit is usually diluted with 2 parts water to 1 part arak, and served over ice. Arak turns white once diluted as the essential oils from the anise form an emulsion upon contact with water. This Levantine speciality is distilled from grapes and, at the end of the distillation process, aniseed is added giving the distinctive and refreshing flavour. Most people would traditionally drink arak with a meal of mezze.
Red Panda beer - Bhutan
A standout brew among the pan-Asian ubiquity of fizzy pils, this is more akin to a German-style Weissbier and is brewed in Bhutan’s most unlikely microbrewery. Deep in the Bumthang valley, a Swiss chap called Fritz Maurer set up the brewery some decades ago. Overlooking the pretty countryside around Bumthang, the brewery is open to visitors by appointment or you can sample the finished product in most of the sizeable towns in Bhutan. If you do make the pilgrimage to the brewery itself you can also indulge in some Swiss style cheese to fully immerse yourself in the alpine illusion.
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