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.
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.
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
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
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.
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 birradelborgo.com
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
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.
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.
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.
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.