Top Ten Little Known Spirits

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Beer recipes have been found on clay tablets and art in ancient Mesopotamia — the land between the Tigris and Euphrates; site of several ancient civilizations, and part of what is now known as Iraq. Wine was consumed in Classical Greece, and in the 1st century BC was part of the diet of most Roman citizens. Looks like people have been looking for a way to party since the beginning of time.

The distillation of alcohol can be traced back to China, Central Asia and the Middle East, later spreading to Europe in the mid-12th century, and by the early 14th century it had spread throughout the continent. By 1740 the production of gin had increased to six times that of beer.

The holidays are a great time to experiment tasting beverages and foods, especially from distant, far-away places. Below are ten little known spirits from around the globe. A few of the beverages listed are meant only as historical references. And if you can get your hands on them, they can make some amazing holiday presents and while you’re at it grab a discount coupon.

1. Xtabentún

Chances are when you think of Mexican Spirits Tequila is the first thing to spring to mind. Well, there’s much more than that; like Xtabentun. It’s name means, “vines growing on stone” in the Mayan language. Xtabentun is an anise liqueur made in Yucatán from anise seed, and fermented honey produced by bees from the nectar of  flowers. To this anise and honey mixture, rum is added. It is usually served straight, cold, or with ice and honey. When served with coffee, it’s called Mayan coffee. It is said that this spirit can cure all ailments and may even work as an aphrodisiac… we don’t know about that, but we’re thinking it will be pretty good for baking.

2. Aquardiente

Aquardiente means “burning water or fire water” and is a spirit fermented and distilled from fruit, most often sugar cane. In Colombia, aguardiente is usually flavored with anise. Each region of the country produces their own spirit which cannot be exported to other regions. In the Andean region, the spirit is often served straight. In the Caribbean regions, where rum is more popular than aguardiente, the local spirit is more likely to be mixed in cocktails. The most popular aguardiente in the U.S. is sold under the brand name Cristal, produced in Manizales, Colombia by Industria Licorera de Caldas. Cristal is served in a variety of flavors including peach, orange and lime.

3. Soju

A distilled beverage native to Korea. Most brands of modern soju are made in South Korea. Traditionally made from rice, major brands supplement or even replace the rice with other starches such as potato, wheat, barley, sweet potato, or tapioca. Soju is clear in color and typically varies in alcohol content from about 20% to about 45% alcohol by volume. Comparable in taste to vodka, but slightly sweeter because of the sugars added in the manufacturing process. Soju is generally served straight and sipped.

4. Maotai
The most famous Chinese spirit is Maotai. Maotai is a sorghum-based white lightning from Guizhou province, produced under a unique process of seven iterations of the distillation cycle. When President Nixon first visited China, Maotai was selected as China’s finest spirit for serving at the state banquets. Maotai is about 54% alcohol.

5. Chicha
One of the oldest beverages on Earth, Chica is a maize-derived drink prepared in several South-American countries. Discoveries show Chicha has been consumed since the time of the Inca, but its popularity had decreased and only a few villages in Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Costa Rica still prepare it. Traditional Chicha-makers grind the maize and then chew it to moisturize it. After the human saliva breaks down the starch, the balls of chewed maze are put in large clay vats and warm water is added. After several days of fermentation, Chicha is ready for consumption and contains 1-3% alcohol.

6. Kumis
Very popular among the people living in the plains of Central Asia, Kumis is a fermented drink made from mare’s milk. Described by Herodotus in the 5th century BC, Kumis, just like Chicha, is very old. To make this unusual dairy product, mare milk is fermented for hours or days, while stirred so it doesn’t coagulate. Kumis is not a very potent, and contains between 0.7 and 2.5% alcohol.

7. Ararat
Ararat is an Armenian brandy that has been produced by the Yerevan Brandy Company since 1887. It is made from Armenian white grapes and spring water. Ararat Brandy is not only popular in Armenia, but in many of the former states of the Soviet Union, chief among them Russia, Georgia, Ukraine and Belarus.

8. Black Strap Rum
In sugar refining, molasses is separated from the sugar crystals after each of three boiling or extraction processes that sugar cane goes through. The third and final separation is called ‘blackstrap’ molasses, a dark, thick molasses with most of the sugar removed.

9. Zoco Pacharan
Pacharan is the name of the product while Zoco is the brand name; and one owned by Pernod-Ricard. Spanish in origin, Zoco Pacharan is made by the maceration of sloe berries in pure alcohol. It produces a syrupy liquid, honeyed with stewed plums, a hint of anise and ending with a chocolate and plum richness. Served with ice and garnished with a slice of orange.

10. Batavia Arrack
Arrack is an alcoholic beverage that is distilled mainly in South Asia and South East Asia from coconut sap. It is collected from the flower of a coconut tree, which is cut before the flower blooms. The white sap that is collected is extremely high in natural yeast, so it starts to ferment soon after it is collected. The sap is placed it in barrels, sent to central collection points and graded. The product is then distilled in copper stills, and aged in Hamilla timber vats and then diluted and blended according to each producer’s specifications. Arrack typically has golden amber color, which distinguishes it from the colorless and transparent Middle Eastern arak.

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Spence Cooper
Inquisitive foodie with a professional investigative background and strong belief in the organic farm to table movement. Author of Bad Seeds: A FriendsEAT Guide to GMO's. Buy Now!
Spence Cooper

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