Original image

10 Wild and Weird Drink Ingredients

Original image

When it comes to booze, humanity has stuck with the classics for a long time. The first recipes for beer production appear 4000 years ago, in a series of Sumerian tablets that include a hymn to the Goddess Ninkasi—“the lady who fills the mouth.” Back in the Sumerians' day, they made beer by crumbling up barley bread into a mash. Brewing techniques have since changed, but people are still pretty consistent with what they like: Beer made from grains; wine from grapes; spirits distilled from fruit or grain. But some intrepid drink-makers have gone far beyond that well-trod path. We've combed the corners of the world to compile some of the wildest concoctions you can find in beer, wine, or spirits.

1. Artichokes

Courtesy of Campari

It's not unusual to use vegetables in distilling alcohol. Sugar cane and the agave plant, for instance, are used to make rum and tequila. Less known, however, is that the lowly artichoke has become the star of its own drink. Cynar, an Italian liqueur made from 13 plants and herbs including artichokes, is popular in Europe. Cynar tastes more bittersweet than identifiably like any particular vegetable, and is often paired with orange juice, or served on the rocks as an apertif. It's starting to become more trendy to drink in the U.S., so look for its artichoke-adorned bottle at a bar near you.

2. Asparagus

Courtesy of Kellie Fox

“It was kind of an experiment that turned out not-so-bad.” 

That's how farmer Kellie Fox describes her latest creation: Asparagus wine. Fox and her husband, Todd, own a fruit and asparagus farm in Oceana County, Michigan, also known as the “Asparagus Capital of the World.” 

On a lark a few years ago, Fox tried to make wine from asparagus and it turned out to be a hit. The white wine smells and tastes like asparagus “and it's a little sweet,” Fox says.

The couple sells the wine during their harvest festival. One customer buys eight bottles every year to use during a dinner where every item is made with asparagus.

3. Baby mice

Wikimedia Commons

On the more horrifying end of the weird-drink spectrum is the practice of drowning animals in rice wine or whiskey, supposedly for health benefits. For this tonic, newborn mice are drowned alive in rice wine and left to ferment. It's difficult to confirm where one might purchase or even find such an item since it fortunately won't be appearing at Costco anytime soon.

4. Civet poop

Wikimedia Commons

Caphe cut chon is one of the ingredients in “Beer Geek Brunch Weasel,” a coffee stout made by Danish brewer, Mikkeller. Caphe cut chon, which translates to “Fox-dung coffee,” is made when the civet, a small weasel-like creature, digests and poops out coffee cherries. Yes, this is actually a thing. This special coffee “processing” is difficult to mass-produce so the coffee fetches a high markup, costing anywhere from $30 a cup on up. Opinions differ on the quality of the coffee, but the beer earned a “World Class” rating at Beer Advocate.

5. Hair

Courtesy of Rogue Ales & Spirits

Technically, the upcoming “beard beer” being produced by Oregon-based Rogue Ales is not made from hair, but rather, the wild yeasts found clinging to brew master John Maier's “old-growth” beard. Last year, the brewery wanted to develop some wild yeast for new beers, so Maier sampled nine hairs from his beard and ended up cultivating a stellar and unique wild yeast strain. The brewery is still in the process of developing the beers from that yeast, but you can check for updates on Maier's beard blog.

6. Wasp guts

Courtesy of

In yet another case of brewers gone rogue, a brewery in Italy developed beers using on a strain of yeast found in wasp bowels. Birra del Borgo brewers are no strangers to interesting beer experiments, having previously attempted to replicate ancient beverages from the Etruscan age. In the case of the wasp beer, the brewers worked with researchers who were studying how wasps and hornets transfer and store yeasts from grape skins. As it turns out, wasp intestines make a cozy place to temporarily store wild yeast. And that yeast was used to develop a beer called Maia (named after a cartoon bee). The brewery is also in the process of developing a second beer called Calabrone (hornet).

7. Mare's milk

Wikimedia Commons

Should you happen to be in the neighborhood of the Mongolian steppes, be sure to try some airag, or kumis, an alcoholic beverage made from fermented mare's milk. Because of the higher content of sugar in mare's milk, the drink ends up with a mild amount of alcohol instead of resembling something like kefir, a yogurt-like drink. Mare's milk contains a much higher amount of lactose than cow's milk, so the fermentation process lessens the laxative effect of the milk as well. The bonus to this drink is that you can get your probiotics and buzz on at the same time.

8. Nicotine

The nicotini (nicotine infused spirit) popped up a couple years ago in response to smoking bans. Smokers can get their fix of nicotine all while legally enjoying a (delicious?) beverage. You can make a nicotine syrup by cooking the tobacco leaf with water and sugar, but there are some concerns. Nicotine is a toxic substance, even lethal if the dose is high enough, so you might think twice before having a three nicotini lunch.

9. Snakes

Wikimedia Commons

Whether it's snakes, mice (see above), giant spiders, scorpions, sea horses, or even giant deer penises, there is apparently a demand in East Asia for more than just ice to be found floating in your cocktail. Unlike mice wine, there are plenty of opportunities to purchase giant bottles of alcohol with cobras floating in them; one site advertises its snake bottles as the “best mother's day 2013 gift." You might want to stick with flowers instead.

10. Spit

Wikimedia Commons

Chicha, a drink found in south and central America, can be made from fermented maize, yucca or fruits. The corn version is a mildly alcoholic beer that tastes like apple cider. The traditional method of making chicha involves chewing ground maize into little spit balls that are laid flat to dry. The saliva helps break down the starch into malt sugar.


Original image
Let Alexa Help You Brine a Turkey This Thanksgiving
Original image

There’s a reason most of us only cook turkey once a year: The bird is notoriously easy to overcook. You could rely on gravy and cranberry sauce to salvage your dried-out turkey this Thanksgiving, or you could follow cooking advice from the experts.

Brining a turkey is the best way to guarantee it retains its moisture after hours in the oven. The process is also time-consuming, so do yourself a favor this year and let Alexa be your sous chef.

“Morton Brine Time” is a new skill from the cloud-based home assistant. If you own an Amazon Echo you can download it for free by going online or by asking Alexa to enable it. Once it’s set up, start asking Alexa for brining tips and step-by-step recipes customized to the size of your turkey. Two recipes were developed by Richard Blais, the celebrity chef and restaurateur best known for his Top Chef win and Food Network appearances.

Whether you go for a wet brine (soaking your turkey in water, salt, sugar, and spices) or a dry one (just salt and spices), the process isn’t as intimidating as it sounds. And the knowledge that your bird will come out succulent and juicy will definitely take some stress out of the holiday.

Original image
Rey Del Rio/Getty Images
Big Questions
Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
Original image
Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.


Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.


Patrick Smith/Getty Images

In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.


More from mental floss studios