People Ferment The Darndest Things: Indigenous Alcoholic Treats

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No matter where you call home, there's a good chance that one of your neighbors is busy making some kind of booze. Brewing, distilling, and winemaking are nearly universal activities, and folks will ferment just about anything.

1. If you want to try traditional chicha, go to Peru or Bolivia, where women chew corn flour and then spit it into bowls. Enzymes in their saliva help break down the sugars in the corn. Chicha tastes tart and can be white, yellow, red, purple, or even black depending on the corn used. Today you can buy a liter of this favorite drink of the Incas for about 10 cents in bars called chicherias.

Kumiss.jpg2. Kumiss is a Mongolian specialty made from horse's milk. It's not very alcoholic, though—only about 2%—so you're going to have to drink a lot of kumiss to get a buzz. But that's exactly what nomadic Mongolians do, downing gallons of the stuff during high kumiss season. We may be hearing more about kumiss in the future: Japanese scientists have discovered that it can dramatically lower your cholesterol.

3. Sahti is an ancient Finnish beer still being made in the traditional way on farms. It is filtered and spiced with juniper branches, and every August there's a brewing competition that helps keep this national homebrew alive. The winner is called the "Holder of the Haarikka," with the haarikka in question being ceremonial wooden bucket used—you guessed it!—for drinking sahti. Commercial breweries have also gotten in on the action: In Finland you can also go out and buy a three-liter box of sahti.

Read on for eleven more indigenous alcoholic beverages from around the world...

masato.jpg4. Manioc, also known as cassava and yucca, is a worldwide staple, especially in South America, where many cultures have developed beers from this tuber. You'd think it would be dangerous, because manioc contains cyanide, but local women know how to remove the poison through careful preparation. In Peru, manioc beer is called masato. In Guyana, it's parakari. In Suriname, it's cassiri and is said to be warm, sour, and dense. In Ecuador, it's nihamanchi. The locals drink it like water, up to four gallons a day for men. They also make a high-alcohol version for ceremonies.

Shakparo.jpg5. Shakparo is a sorghum beer from Benin, West Africa, where every kitchen contains a brewery. Producing this sour, fruity brown-pink beer is an essential skill that every mother teaches to her daughter as a rite of passage. Though it's men who drink most of the shakparo, a woman was assured a certain level of status if she knows how to make it. Like many of the other beers mentioned here, shakparo is now produced commercially and has been celebrated by folks with gluten allergies because it contains no wheat.

And here are nine other beverages for your next booze fest (including root beer for the kids and teetotalers)...

"¢ Europeans settling on the American frontier were used to drinking beer every day, but they didn't have key Old World ingredients like barley or malt. So instead they used roots to make root beer, from which our familiar soft drink has descended.

"¢ Hard apple cider was a staple drink on the American frontier, consumed by adults and children alike. Johnny "Appleseed" Chapman was planting apple trees for cider, not for eating. We know this because apple trees grown from seed produce funky and often inedible apples, and the best way to salvage them is to make cider. If you want to grow edible apples, you do so by grafting from existing trees.

somersetperry.jpgPerry is a hard cider made from pears.

Ginger beer was originally alcoholic. It was quite popular in the U.S. until Prohibition stamped it out.

Arrack is a Sri Lankan liquor made by fermenting and blending the nectar of coconut palms. A "toddy tapper" climbs from tree to tree on ropes harvesting the nectar.

Brem is a rice wine native to Bali.

Wine made from the fruit of the saguaro cactus of the Sonoran Desert plays an important role in Native American rituals.

Banana beer is popular throughout Africa.

Tesquino, the yellow, harsh corn beer of the Tarahumara people of Mexico, is considered a highly spiritual drink. It's supposed to scare out the "large souls" out of the body, leaving the "little souls," which, they says, explains why drunk people act childish.

So, what exotic cocktails have gotten you drunk?

Weird Science Correspondent Chris Weber is an occasional contributor to mentalfloss.com.

October 17, 2007 - 7:15am
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