A glass of wine is nice, and nothing beats an ice cold beer, but for those times when you’d like to celebrate with something a little stronger, consider some of these unique, potent liquors to create a cocktail you won’t soon forget. That is, as long as you enjoy in moderation! Our list of powerful beverages offers tastes from all around the globe, plus some more familiar indulgences. Use caution when shooting these straight, or better yet, mix up some creative combinations in a tall highball glass with plenty of ice.
The infamous “Green Fairy” starts out our list, clocking it at around 120 proof. Created in Switzerland, this blend of fermented grain and aromatic herbs (including the powerful, and sometimes illegal, wormwood) comes with a cool serving style all its own. The basic method involves pouring your absinthe into a small glass, then slowly pouring cold water over a cube of sugar before stirring up the cloudy mixture. If you want to score some extra points for authenticity and showmanship, light the sugar cube on fire first, and let the caramelized sugar drip down into the glass before you add in the water. However you prepare it, you’ll end up with a milky green opaque drink that tastes like something out of a Hemingway novel. For those of you out there who like adding cool tools to your bar, you can find absinthe spoons, glasses, and fountains online and in any store where quality bar ware is sold.
Like Absinthe’s middle eastern cousin, Arak is another anise flavored liquor that turns cloudy when mixed and offers an opportunity for ritual and rowdiness. Traditionally made and served in a handful of eastern Mediterranean countries, including Lebanon and Syria, Arak is made from fermented and distilled grapes, then mixed with anise for its unique flavor. Enjoy a small glass as a feisty aperitif after enjoying hummus and grape leaves, and treat your guests to this unique, slightly sweet moonshine of the East.
Served like sake, but packing a vodka punch, this Chinese liquor is made from fermented and distilled grains in a similar fashion to spirits like whiskey. Instead of wheat however, Baijiu is produced using sorghum, a kind of grass that has become more popular as a flour alternative, as well as thr foundation to several powerful Asian sippables. Serve Baijiu at room temperature in small glasses designed for shooting it straight down, or play around with cocktail recipes and swap out vodka for a pour of either flavored or unflavored Baijiu.
Another sorghum derived liquor, Kaoliang hails from Taiwan and is even stronger than its Chinese cousin. Also referred to as sorghum wine, Kaoliang is typically commercially available at around 110 proof. The drink is also popular in China and Korea, and is usually enjoyed in a simple shot straight down the hatch. Feel free to experiment by mixing up Kaoliang martinis or adding spicy or sweet elements. The toasty grain taste is distinctive, and several high end varieties are available, but even a basic serving of Kaoling will blend nicely with a little fresh citrus and/or sparking water.
The perfect booze alternative for when you’re ready to give margarita night a rest, Mezcal is a strong, smoky export from Mexico made from the hearty leaves of the maguey plant. With a heady flavor that lends itself perfectly to mixing up craft cocktails, try swapping out Mezcal in any of your favorite tequila recipes. For something different, try pairing it with a few dashes of bitters to bring out the interesting, complex flavors for a drink that will require slow, thoughtful sips.
Hailing from West African countries like Nigeria, Ogogoro is made from the fermented sap of palm trees and is often compared to gin. This liquor is a strong and exciting addition to any adventurous home bar, but use caution when purchasing as news of contaminated Ogogoro sites has recently turned many locals off from the stuff.
A Hungarian fruit brandy may sound like a sweet sip for your great-grandmother, but Palinka’s powerful plums weighs in at around 110 proof. This Hungarian drink is distilled using any local fruits, but plums are usually the main ingredient. Serve Palinka at just slightly below room temperature. Anything colder and you’ll miss the fragrant, fruity nose, so skip the ice and pour it out like you would port, in a small glass that allows room for your nose to sniff and, well, attempt to enjoy this brawny booze.
Finally, any list of high octane alcohols wouldn’t be complete without an entry from Ireland. And no, we’re not talking about whiskey! Poitin has long been a tradition of Irish moonshiners; in fact, the name comes from the Gaelic word for “pot.” Once made from mashing grains and/or potatoes in a single pot before distilling, Poitin is now mass produced at the legal level of 65% alcohol. Try a sip to say you did it, then stick to Guinness unless you want to start seeing rainbows and pots of gold!
About the Author
Melissa Hardman is Chief staff writer for The Vine Daily at WineBags.com showcasing creative editorial & news of the Wine & Beer biz. Melissa was raised in the wine business and loves life’s hardcore culinary eats. Not only is she a renegade in the kitchen, she can shamelessly concoct mind blowing cocktails with ingredients du jour.