The Booze Traveler's Most Nerve-Rattling Drinks

Jack Maxwell has taken sips that would give some of us pause; that’s the nature of booze traveling. Here are some of his most memorable encounters—and if you've got an adventurous spirit, here are seven more.

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Photo By: Addie Chinn

Puréed Frog (Peru Is Magic)

The “energy drink” Jack encounters in Peru (after his interpreter asks him to choose a live frog from a box) isn’t suitable for vegetarians—or for anyone who can’t stand to see their beverage-to-be killed, skinned, and blended—but “because I ordered it, I had to drink it,” Jack told Digital Spy. Lesson learned: in Peruvian markets, you point at your peril (the authorities do not take kindly to the sale of rare species for food).  

Airag (Mongolian Road Trip)

When you’re at the foot of the Khangai Mountains in Mongolia, doing as the locals do means milking a horse, straining the milk through a cloth, hanging it outside your yurt in a leather sack, and quaffing it once it ferments. Offering your visitors a bowl of airag is a mandatory element of Mongolian hospitality—and rejecting it would be an horrific breach of etiquette.

Perique liqueur (Dead in New Orleans)

Perique, a spicy, barrel-fermented tobacco that hails from St. James Parish, Louisiana, doesn’t turn up in too many pipes or bags of chew, as it’s both rare and pretty hard to handle straight. That said, an adventurous distiller is lobbying the FDA to approve it as a food additive—and, naturally, Jack had a taste of his perique-infused booze (which is said to lack the toxic risks associated with home-made tobacco infusions).

Umqombothi (South Africa: Hidden Gems)

Jack joins members of the Zulu tribe in a ceremony to honor their ancestors after trying umqombothi, their traditional beer. Made with maize, sorghum, yeast, and water, umqombothi is high in Vitamin B, low in alcohol, and thought by some to be responsible for the high rate of esophageal cancer in South Africa, thanks to a fungus that’s known to contaminate the crops used to produce it. Yikes.

Mampoer (South Africa: Hidden Gems)

If that potential cancer link scares you away from Zulu beer, know that mampoer (a popular South African spirit double-distilled from fruit) doesn’t have a similar risk. It doesn’t have a similar ABV, either: It’s so high in alcohol that Hakkiesdraad, the most famous brand, is sold with barbed wire wrapped around the bottle as a warning.

Seaweed smoothie (Belize: Paradise Found)

Seaweed turns up on plates, in soap, as medicine, and—on Belize’s Little Water Caye Island—in mixed drinks. It’s blended up with condensed milk and honey, then spiked with brandy. Given that the weed itself tastes like a pickle, as Jack observes, that sounds...interesting.

Brennivín (Iceland’s Warm Fire)

“Brennivín” literally means “burned wine,” but Iceland’s signature beverage is more commonly known in English as Black Death (because the Icelandic government placed a white skull on its label). Looks aside, Brennivín’s herbal flavor isn’t especially lethal unless it’s served with Iceland’s equally notorious signature dish: hákarl, or cured rotten shark. 

Walk Me Down (Tennessee: Red, White, and Booze)

When does a mixed drink need its own neck strap? When it’s Blues City Café’s Walk Me Down, a hundred-ounce, yard-long quaff made with gin, rum, vodka, tequila, blue curaçao, and sweet and sour mix. Best of luck with that walk. 

Toaka Gasy (The Force of Madagascar)

The local drink in Madagascar, toaka gasy, doesn’t sound all that intimidating; it’s just rum, which is reliably delicious when made of and combined with all sorts of things. When the sort of thing in question is snake venom, however, it’s not for the faint of heart. 

Cow urine (India)

Laid up with a hangover in India? As David Foster Wallace would say, urine luck: The locals are ready to provide you with the most memorable cure of all time.  

Tarantula Wine (Drink in the Zen)

Travelers in Europe are fond of joining their hosts in beverage prep; who isn’t up for a rollicking afternoon of, say, stomping wine grapes with your bare feet? Similarly, in Cambodia’s Kampong Thom Province, you can help catch tarantulas for your booze. Bucket-list material, right? 

Masato (Peru is Magic)

In his adventures on the Amazon, Jack eats pirahna, learns to shoot darts out of a blow gun, and accepts a tribal king’s offer of a drink—which turns out to be ‘spit beer,’ a concoction of tubers that are masticated, spit out, and fermented (and tastes pretty much the way it sounds like it would). He’s grateful for the experience, though: A warm welcome is a warm welcome. 

Prairie Oyster (69 Colebrook Row, London)

If you’re not quite ready for India’s hangover cure, you could try Islington’s: At 69 Colebrook Row, Tony Conigliaro bends molecular gastronomy to his will and creates a deconstructed Bloody Mary that looks for all the world like a Prairie Oyster (the post-bender remedy made with a raw egg, Worcestershire sauce, tomato juice, vinegar, hot sauce, and salt and pepper). Tony’s version features an alginated tomato-juice “yolk,” lab-made horseradish vodka with green tea, spice mix, and herbs.

Flaming Ferrari (Nam Long, London)

Pyrophobics would do well to steer clear of Nam Long’s Flaming Ferrari (which the Daily Mail listed among the “world’s most dangerous cocktails” in 2014), but everyone else clamors for it. Royals, Rolling Stones, and A-listers from around the world have visited the Knightsbridge bar, where mixologists blend dark rum, Grand Marnier, and green and yellow chartreuse, then set the resulting concoction alight and invite patrons to drink up through a straw.  

King Louie’s Downfall (Bootlegger Tiki, Palm Springs)

If you’re looking to overcome a fear of fire on this side of the Atlantic, pay a visit to Bootlegger Tiki in Palm Springs and request King Louie’s Downfall (a blend of Cuban-style rums, mezcal, maraschino liqueur, vanilla syrup, banana butter cordial, and bitters). Unlike the Flaming Ferrari, co-owner Jamie Kowal says, “we do tell our guests to wait until the fire goes out (or they blow it out) before drinking.” Like some of Jack Maxwell’s foreign finds, this cocktail packs a punch: “There isn’t a warning per se on how many people can drink—however, they find out soon enough.” 

Bamboo Shroom (Vie, Chicago)

Fancy some fungus in your glass? In Western Springs, Illinois, bar manager Julius White prepares a tincture of locally-foraged morels for the Bamboo Shroom, Vie’s savory amalgamation of Lustau amontillado sherry, Carpano dry vermouth, Grand Marnier, and orange bitters. 

Fiesta Punch (The Punch Room, Charlotte, NC)

If you fear kombucha (the fermented-tea drink that’s all the rage with new-age digestive-health types), you’re not alone. You might soon be alone, however. At The Punch Room, Bob Peters’s Fiesta Punch (made with tequila, cilantro, jalapeno, lemon, lime, and locally-produced Lenny Boy beet ginger kombucha) is so popular that he’s put it on tap. 

Black Tie White Noise (Beauty & Essex, NYC)

If you’re in the market for a murky drink that doesn’t contain endangered frog, New York City’s Beauty & Essex—a restaurant, bar, & lounge hidden behind a pawn shop—is the place for you. Like Jack’s sketchy Peruvian ‘health’ drink, the Black Tie White Noise has an interesting mouthfeel—but in this case, it comes from a capsule of activated charcoal (blended with ½ oz. simple syrup, ¾ oz. lemon zest, ½ oz. yellow chartreuse, 1½ oz. Gentleman Jack, and ¼ oz Bruichladdich Port Charlotte Scotch). 

Black Mamba Margarita (The Carbon Bar, Toronto)

Our neighbors to the north offer immersion therapy for fear of fire and fear of the dark in margarita form, which is a handy way to address many concerns, really. The Carbon Bar’s Black Mamba Margarita features 1½ oz. charcoal-infused Olmeca Altos tequila, 1 oz. St. Germain, 1 oz. lime juice, 2 dashes Angostura bitters, 3 spritzes of Bowmore scotch, a salt rim, and a lime wheel; it’s flamed with Bacardi 151. “It’s been fun letting people know about the health benefits of the activated charcoal,” restaurant manager Sam Lamonde says. “It also whitens your teeth!” We can get behind that kind of personal improvement.

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