Humans have been inventive enough to make booze with what they have found in their surroundings, regardless of where they lived, since the very beginning. The Irish and Scots made whisky from a combination of cereal, water and wood. The people of Georgia were the first to make wine from grapes, and the people of Mesopotamia made beer thousands of years ago. However, not all alcoholic beverages have become global phenomenons, and while some have become commonplace globally, they are yet to be fully discovered in India.
Let’s start with Brennivin, which means burning wine in English. Brennivin is also known as Black Death; this spirit is Iceland’s answer to the spirit world and is exclusively made in the country. Made from grains, potatoes and caraway seeds, this spirit is a lot like Aquavit, a popular Scandinavian drink. Not necessarily something even the locals would drink regularly, Brennivin is consumed at feasts and is a sort of novelty.
The name has nothing to do with high alcohol content – it was put on the label post prohibition to warn people of the dangers of drinking. Since then, the label has been changed to the map of Iceland, but the name carries on.
Blue Wine recently made a huge splash in the papers, creating global interest for it incredibly quickly. In my humble opinion, I predict that the interest will go away quickly too. Originating from Spain, this wine is made using both white and red grape varieties.
It gets its colour from anthocyanin, a pigment found in grape skin and indigo dye. There’s not much history to share, except that a new company and a team at the University of Basque thought it up. I’m all for trying anything new at least once (and I must admit that I have not tried this yet) but I doubt any of us will be giving up our Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons for this interesting yet gimmicky vino.
You will fall in love with Amarula Cream from South Africa. It’s just so delicious you could drink it happily all day. Just pour some in a glass with crushed ice and you are ready to go. It has 17 per cent alcohol strength, so it gets you going gently – perfect for a lazy afternoon drink or three.
Made from the fruit of the Marula tree, this delicious, creamy liquor has found some footing internationally, but in India we’re very new to it. Go on and give it a shot, I promise you will love it.
Pulque is considered the ancestor of tequila and mescal, and is made from the agave plant. However, in the case of Pulque, it is fermented and not distilled. Not too high in alcohol strength (somewhere around 5 per cent), Pulque is going to be easy-peasy for whisky drinking folks.
This frothy, white, strangely textured beverage is the oldest drink in Mexico, and you could literally drink it for hours together and nothing will happen to you – well, almost nothing.
While we’re talking about Mexican beverages, we need to elaborate more on Mezcal, Tequila’s cousin of sorts, which is also made from the Agave plant. There is a difference, however; Tequila can only be made from Blue Agave in select regions in Mexico. Mezcal can be made from many variants of the plant, (approximately 28) and has its own specific regions in which it can be produced.
Mezcal is smokier in flavour, but can also be similar tasting to Tequila. Mezcal is aged in oak, like Tequila, and I would suggest you sip on the older ones slowly, rather than drinking it as a shot or in a cocktail.
Metaxa is a brand of spirit from Greece, which has a unique method of production. Brandy, made from the distillation of white wines from vineyards all over Greece, is then aged in casks. Once the level of maturity is achieved, the spirit is blended with wines made from the Muscat grape varietal grown in the islands of Samos and Lemnos, with an addition of floral extracts and herbs.
This is available globally and in India too. If you haven’t tried it yet, you just have to. The spirit is bottled under different age statements, the older and more complex ones I would recommend having with a cube of ice and the younger ones you should use to make delicious cocktails.
Chartreuse is produced in France and is the only liqueur in the world to be naturally green. Produced by the Chartreuse monks, this spirit is made from distilling wine and infusing and macerating 130 herbs and flowers, a recipe so secret that only two people in the world know of it at any given time.
Chartreuse was originally prepared for medicinal purposes, but people loved the taste of it and began consuming it as a drink. Today, there are many variants of Chartreuse, including a yellow one. It’s usually used to make cocktails, or is had with ginger ale or simply on the rocks. Sometimes, bartenders will only add a drop or two, since the flavours and aromas are so pronounced. Most of us are not new to whisky, but I would like to bring people’s attention to whiskies made of rye.
Rye Whisky is simply whisky made by fermenting and distilling rye, creating a drink that offers aromas and flavours and is different in comparison to bourbon or malt whiskies, or even blended whiskies, which are a blend of malt and grain whiskies.
More common in North America than anywhere else in the world, you would be surprised with how good they are. And remember — drinking any of these (besides the blue wine) is like drinking that region’s history, and we must recognise the efforts of those who have been ingenious enough to create them.