Now well into the Twelve Days of Christmas countdown, most of us are already enjoying the revelry of the festive season. Work Christmas parties are in full swing, old friends are meeting up for long overdue catch-up drinks, the bubbly is flowing and festive treats are starting to grace the table.
What will you be drinking this Christmas? Quaffing champers with a smoked salmon breakfast, sipping mulled wine around a roaring fire and twinkling tree or maybe a cheeky port or two after the main event?
Here are twelve tipples that have tickled our taste buds on our travels over the year… salud, prost, skål, bottoms up!
By Natasha Preston
Frosty Shots at the IceHotel
Could there be a more spectacular winter wonderland setting in which to enjoy a festive tipple than Sweden’s magical IceHotel? Snuggly wrapped up in your thermals and surrounded by delicately carved ice sculptures, unique each year, this could be the most memorable vodka you’ll ever drink. Any night at this iconic hotel guarantees a gem for the photo album regardless, but a sip of a Scandinavian snifter beneath the rippling glow of the Northern Lights is sure to warm the cockles.
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Traditional Limoncello in Amalfi
A zesty shot of limoncello is the perfect digestivo to round off an exquisite Italian feast. Its history and true origins are shrouded in myth and legend, a hotly contested claim rages on between the neighbouring towns of Amalfi, Capri and Sorrento. Authentic limoncello is made from large, highly perfumed, thick-skinned lemons that grow abundantly in rippling rows along the craggy cliff sides of the Amalfi Coast. They are hand harvested before their skins are soaked and transformed into liquid nectar. This lemony libation is best served in frosted ceramic glasses. But at 32% proof, it is one best enjoyed in small doses!
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Glühwein & Goodwill
Glühwein, more commonly known around the world as mulled wine, encompasses the quintessential flavours of yuletide; orange, cinnamon, clove and a nip of nutmeg. Traditionally associated with Germany and Austria, this boozy winter warmer is made by gently heating red wine with water, sugar and spices. It has a long history with variations dating as far back the ancient Greeks, but mulled wine as we know it today became particularly popular with Brits during the Victorian era, a recipe even featured in Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management in 1869.
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The Elaborate Cider Pour in the Picos
In a remote corner of northern Spain are the Picos Mountains – a hidden gem of wild and dramatic limestone spears marching toward the horizon. But the mountains are not the only well-kept secret. After a typical day on the high barren passes, you’ll descend into civilisation where the local refreshment of choice is the ubiquitously available local cider. Brewed in the foothills, the most crucial part of the process is to ensure full aeration by pouring the amber liquid from a high. This is of course the moment of ‘the elaborate pour’… both refreshing and entertaining.
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Mojitos Madness in Havana
Quite possibly the most refreshing alcoholic beverage on the planet, the mojito is no longer exclusive to the Caribbean island of Cuba with supermarkets the world over selling anodyne, pre-mixed versions of this much-loved rum-based cocktail synonymous with sun , sea and salsa. However, nothing beats the real deal: aged Havana Club poured over ice, gently bruised mint leaves and a spoonful (or two) of sugar before being mixed up with lashings of fresh lime juice and club soda for that extra fizz – you’re in Havana heaven!
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Caipirinhas & Tail Feathers in Rio
Less is definitely more; Brazil’s national cocktail is one of simplistic perfection. Made with cachaça (a spirit distilled from fermented sugar cane), sugar and lime juice, all over ice, the caipirinha’s characteristic flavours are rum-like sweetness that mingles with grassy undertones and a zesty zing of lime. This Brazilian beauty certainly leaves a tingle on the palette with its perfect alchemy of tang, sweet and sour – after a couple of these you’ll be out shaking your tail feather in no time!
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Post-trek Pisco Sours in Peru
No visit to Peru is complete without trying the local tipple, the legendary pisco sour. A frothy concoction of pisco (a popular South American fortified wine), lime juice, sugar syrup, bitters and egg whites whisked together. Arguably the bestpisco sours are made in Aguas Calientes, the thermal springs town ideal for soothing sore muscles, making it the perfect place to round off a four-day trek along the Inca Trail. Salud!
Rice Wine in Indochina
Whether it’s known as Lao Lao, Ara, Tapai or Ruou Chan, the strong spirited rice wine is the drink of choice in much of the Orient – the most famous being Japanese Sake. Drinking rice wine is often a very social affair and if you find yourself invited to share in this ritual, in Vietnam for instance, you may be drinking out of a bamboo straw or sharing a single shot-glass passed from one drinker to the next. Watch out for rice wine with a snake in it, but it’s got quite a bite!
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Mare’s Milk in Mongolia
Not the obvious choice for a list of delicious travel tipples, but in Mongolia airag is an integral part of daily life. Living transiently on the remote plains, Mongolia’s nomadic people have a close relationship with their horses. Not only for transport and cattle wrangling, these equine workers also provide vital resources in this unforgiving land. Left to ferment over a few days, the mare’s milk becomes the texture of curdled cow’s milk, yet is mild in flavour and only slightly alcoholic. Although it is a very unusual texture for the average Western palette, the taste of airag is not unpleasant. Mongolians brim over with hospitality, so make sure you accept the inevitable offer with grace. Be aware though, if you drink a cupful simply out of courtesy, it will be refilled with Genghis-like efficiency!
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Khukri Rum in Nepal
It may seem bizarre to slurp on anything other than tea in a Nepalese teahouse, but there’s another contender for a contented cuppa at the end of a trek. A traditional Himalayan tipple is Khukri rum, perfect to warm the cockles and relax amidst the harsh serenity of the mountains. This celebratory toast is at its most victorious at Everest Base Camp, a location saturated with history and bravado. Here, the shot is enjoyed in a moment of expedition camaraderie impossible to emulate anywhere else on Earth – plus, the Nepalese believe it can alleviate mild symptoms of altitude sickness and give walkers a fast-acting energy boost; although this may just be an excuse for a second dose from the medicinal mug!
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Summit Special: Kilimanjaro Beer
36 hours earlier you were standing at Uhuru ‘Freedom’ Peak watching the most spectacular sunrise in the world from a vantage point of 5,895m. You’ve done it. You conquered the king of the mountains, summited an icon and had a seminal trekking moment that will last a lifetime; you’ve trekked to the Roof of Africa. You’ve seen the curvature of the Earth. Now you’re back at the park gate having earned the right to drink a perfectly chilled Kilimanjaro Beer. Never before has a hop-based beverage tasted so good!
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Wine in South Africa
Big bold flavours characterise much of South Africa’s cuisine, so it’s only right they supply wine that can stand up to job. Rich, ruby red syrahs burst with berry flavours, oak-aged chenin blancs complement seafood platters, and punchy pinotages are perfect for a summer braai with friends. Over 100,000 hectares of land is devoted to wine production and South Africa is now considered the world’s eighth largest wine producing nation. While away an afternoon meandering around the Stellenbosch Wine Estate, sampling its top tipples and taking in the staggering views of rolling vineyards and surrounding mountain amphitheatre.
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Champagne at the North Pole
Forget New Year’s Eve and your silver wedding anniversary, save the Moët & Chandon for the day you arrive at the North Pole! There is no other drink that could match such an occasion; you have voyaged over the Arctic Ocean crushing through ice metres thick on board the mighty 50 Years of Victory icebreaker to your destination at latitude 90°N. There’s something really quite special about drinking such a delicate, refined beverage surrounded by the savage, eye watering beauty of the Arctic wilderness. Remember only to leave footprints though – no Formula One style celebrations on ice please!
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