The possibilities of unique and unexpected spirits and drinks are all around us. Anything can be fermented or distilled these days, so be open-minded to try something new.
If you’ve travelled around the world, perhaps drinking something unusual or rare is part of your itinerary and a definite must. Perhaps you’ve already heard about the famous Dawson City Sour Toe Cocktail (yes, it is served with a real severed toe!) or the Meat Breast Mezcal of Mexico, or perhaps even the Mamajauna of Dominican Republic, made with a mixture of tree bark, spices and red wine. While those might indeed have a level of “grossness”, read on for some other unusual or unique drinks that just might be a bit more palatable – to both the stomach and the eyes. If you’re a bit squeamish though, don’t read to the end of this article as the grossness just might return…
Kombucha has certainly come into its own for popularity and can also be considered for its health benefits. This mildly fizzy, fermented drink made from sweetened tea and a specific culture known as ‘scoby’ (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts), converts the sugar into ethanol and acetic acid, which is responsible for kombucha’s distinctive sour taste. It is a potential source of probiotics, antioxidants and certain vitamins and minerals. Several flavours are available here in-market, of both the alcoholic and non-alcoholic variety. It can even be made at home.
While dining at Lingnan in February, I was offered a sip of Baijiu, a Chinese spirit commonly distilled with sorghum, but can also be made from rice, wheat, corn and millet. Served by itself, it has a sweet anise floral aroma but a 58% ABV bite! Chef Miles Quan designed a specialty cocktail made with Baijiu, aptly naming it the lǎo zì hào which means “shop, firm or brand with a long-established reputation.” He felt the name was fitting as the Lignan has been in business for over 75 years. Miles shares his recipe as a way to enjoy Baijiu, where one might not otherwise.
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Lingnan lǎo zì hào
2 oz of Baijiu
Cocktail spoon of mandarin syrup 5ml
3 dashes grapefruit bitters
Cocktail spoon of maltose syrup 5ml
1 piece preserved, salted tangerine peel
Pour all ingredients into a mixing glass, stir to combine Baijiu and syrups; while allowing time for the peel to incorporate its flavour. Add ice and stir. Serve in a highball glass.
In creating this cocktail, Miles said, “Baijiu is strong but has a sweetness to it, so I chose mandarin syrup to bring that out with a bit of citrus brightness. The maltose is a mellow sweetness that reflects well on the nuttiness of the Baijiu.”
In ancient times, herbs, flowers and other natural ingredients were used to heal diseases. There wasn’t a lot of money and modern medicine wasn’t yet invented, so locals had to improvise. China and Korea are quite well known for some strange drinks used for medicinal purposes. Baby Mice Wine anyone? Baby mice were drowned in rice wine, and then fermented for 1-2 years to gain the strongest rodent flavour possible, which gives it greater healing power, specifically for liver disease and asthma. If you have a hankering to try Baby Mice Wine, or even Snake Wine, while you might not be able to order it at your favourite local bar, you might just get lucky to find it here in Edmonton’s Chinatown!
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