It’s your vacation… spend it however you like. But for the record, every spirit on this list will most likely knock you square on your ass unless you exercise the strictest levels of moderation. So drink slowly, don’t order doubles — and above all else, be careful in your global travels.
The Kenyans call it changaa, while the Zambians call it kachasu. Homemade liquor is found throughout sub-Saharan Africa — but whatever name it goes by, you’d best steer clear of it. The taste is nasty, but there’s also an element of risk involved with consuming any form of moonshine (especially when rudimentary equipment is involved); the proof will vary from batch to batch, and the presence of certain materials (wood or fruit pits, for instance) can lead to a myriad of health problems, from chronic indigestion to sudden blindness. If you’re traveling through sub-Saharan Africa and absolutely need a stiff drink, visit the local marketplace — chances are someone will be selling bottles of vodka or brandy for a considerably low price.
This vodka label is popular throughout Eastern Europe — and as the name implies, its alcohol content is 88 percent. In the opening paragraph of its description of Balkan 176, Wine and Spirit International LTD notes: “We recognise that it isn’t for everyone”. Enough said — you know who you are.
Bruichladdich X4 Quadrupled Whiskey
The alcohol content of most single malt Scotch whiskies falls between 40 and 50 percent. Then there’s this little fiend from the Scottish island of Islay, which, at 184-proof, is advertised as the strongest single malt on the market. Most Scotches lead to enlightened fireside conversations, but good luck looking classy and sophisticated after you’ve peed your pants and fallen asleep in an armchair after more than one glass of this stuff. But if you rent a car during your visit to Scotland, you may want to pick up a bottle of Bruichladdich X4 Quadrupled; in 2008, a pair of BBC journalists used the whisky to successfully power a Radical SR4 race car with an unmodified engine.
John Crow Batty Rum
Guess how this Jamaican spirit, which often exceeds 160-proof, got its name. We’ll let the authors of The Rough Guide to Jamaica explain: “[John Crow Batty is] said to be as strong as the stomach acids that ‘John Crow’ vultures need to digest their diet of rotting meat”. Hmmm. The fact is that a bottle of this stuff is more than enough to turn your beach party into a belligerent melee. And since you’re in the Caribbean, there are plenty of better, higher-quality rums at your disposal.
A couple of years ago, several cities in the United States lifted a long-standing ban on pisco, a grape-flavored brandy common to wine-growing regions of Chile and Peru. Today, you can order pisco cocktails in numerous bars from Seattle to New York City — but the stateside variation is much friendlier to American palates than its rough South American counterpart. Most authentic brands are between 80 and 90-proof, and — like wine — pisco is available as either a grape varietal or a blend. Either way, expect a long morning if you consume more than one pisco sour in a single sitting during your South American travels; this spirit is known to cause a wicked hangover, thanks to high sugar content.
In 2010, New York passed a law that allowed sale and consumption of Spirytus in local establishments, making it the strongest liquor available in the United States. To be fair, at 192-proof, this iconic Polish spirit is probably the strongest liquor you’ll consume anywhere else. Spirytus can produce a lethal hangover in the most literal sense; according to Courier Mail, one 500-milliliter bottle is equivalent to 38 drinks — enough to potentially kill two adults. Proceed with caution when it comes to Spirytus — or just order something lighter, like a shot of Everclear.
Here are two general rules of thumb to follow during your travels: don’t consume any illegal beverages, and avoid crude spirits distilled from sugarcane. In other words, two reasons to stay far, far away from tharra during your trip to Northern India or Pakistan. This potent, black market concoction is usually found in rural areas, and is said to provide a mean mule-kick of a headache — and, in some cases, episodes of delirium — to whoever empties a glass of it.
By Brad Nehring