17 National Liquors You Can Try In Europe
Europe takes its alcohol seriously. Beer and wine aside, most countries and regions have a distilled beverage or hard liquor that’ll strip your taste buds and have you gasping for air. Others are slightly more palatable. But they all have the potential to bond you with your fellow travelers or new local friends. Here are 17 national liquors to sample on your next Eurail trip.
1. Austria & Germany: Schnapps
Schnapps is a common drink throughout Austria and Germany. In particular, look out for Obstbrand or Obstler. Although it’s a fruit brandy similar to other distilled drinks on the continent, most schnapps in Austria and Germany is made from apples, plums, pears, apricots, and cherries. For the uninitiated, however, you’ll be lucky to get even a hint of the fruit.
2. Belgium & Netherlands: Jenever
English speakers generally call jenever Dutch gin. It’s a juniper-flavored liquor popular in the Netherlands and Belgium. The juniper was originally used to mask the taste of distilled wine, and because of its medicinal effects. After one too many, though, you might refute its health benefits – it typically comes at 50% ABV (alcohol by volume).
3. Czech Republic: Becherovka
Becherovka is a herbal bitters which is popular in the Czech Republic. It’s often used as a digestive aid and has aromas of cinnamon and ginger. The purists drink it cold and neat. But if you want it to last longer and hit softer, you can mix it with tonic.
4. Eastern Europe: Rakia / rakija
It’s hard to travel far in Eastern Europe without encountering some variation of the region’s popular fruit brandy. You’ll find it in Albania, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia. The fruit ingredients and flavors vary, but what they all have in common is their strength. The concept of these national liquors is similar throughout the Balkans, but the traditions and customs surrounding how and when to drink it vary.
5. France: Pastis
The French certainly know how to make alcohol. Given all the superb wine, champagne, cognac, and brandy on offer, it can be a rather jarring surprise when someone eventually pulls out a bottle of pastis. This anise-flavored spirit isn’t to everyone’s liking, but there are few drinks as quintessentially French. Most dilute it with water for a refreshing beverage.
6. Greece: Ouzo
Ouzo is pretty much the drink of Greece. You’ll find it in the smallest villages and largest cities. It’s got an intense anise kick, and the end product is a respectable 37.5-50% ABV.
7. Hungary: Unicum
Locals drink this herbal liqueur as either an apéritif or a digestif. As one of Hungary’s official national liquors, many tourist bars and restaurants serve it up at pretty much any time of the day or night. It’s dark, bitter, and full of herbal flavor. It’s particularly good sipped slowly, while reflecting on a long day in the Hungarian capital.
8. Ireland: Irish whiskey
Wherever you are in Northern Ireland or the Republic or Ireland, it’ll be impossible, and almost criminal, not to engage with a glass or two of Irish whiskey. Many regard Irish whiskey to be amongst the best in the world. Pay a visit to your favorite distillery to drink the whiskey at the source, or savor it at a warm, dimly lit pub.
9. Italy: Grappa, limoncello
In a country with wine as celebrated as Italy’s, it’s no surprise that one of its national liquors also comes from grapes. Grappa is a grape-based brandy of varying flavors and quality, depending on the type of grapes used. If you’re looking for something slightly sweeter and palatable, a glass of traditional limoncello (lemon liqueur) is the way to go – especially following a scenic dinner somewhere on the Amalfi Coast.
10. Poland: Vodka
The Polish take their vodka very seriously. Don’t believe me? Walk into a local supermarket and take a look just how many variations are on offer. To the newbie it’ll all taste pretty much the same – a fiery blast of ethanol and water. But locals will tell you that there’s a lot of work that goes into a fine vodka. You may grow to appreciate it, or, after more than one, you’ll just stop caring.
11. Portugal: Port wine
When a major city shares its name with an alcoholic beverage, you know they mean business. Though Portugal has its own liqueur in the form of Ginja, you can’t visit Porto and not sample a glass or two of the drink. The sweet red wine is produced only in the Douro Valley. You can drink it at dozens of distilleries, but you can also find it at bars, restaurants, and stores throughout the country.
12. Romania: Ţuică
Țuică is a Romanian spirit produced from the cereal grain rachiu. It’s a fruit-based alcohol laden with customs and traditions, and can be either frighteningly strong 55-60%, or a slightly more tolerable 20-30%. It all depends on the distilling technique.
13. Scandinavia: Akvavit / akevitt / aquavit
Denmark, Norway, and Sweden all have their own version of this flavored spirit, typically made from potatoes. Norwegian akevitt must use Norwegian potatoes and age for at least six months in oak casks. In contrast, the Swedish and Danish versions are typically unaged and grain-based. You’ll find this liquor at festivals and gatherings such as weddings and Christmas dinner.
14. Slovakia: Slivovica
Like many other countries in the region, Slovakia has a fruit brandy of its own. Slivovica is a brandy usually made using damson plums. It may be another kind of rakia, but mention that to a Slovakian and you may receive a passionate objection.
15. Spain: Sherry
Spain has several popular alcohols, depending on the region. The most common of Spain’s national liquors is sherry, which originates from the grape regions near Jerez de la Frontera. These fortified wines vary according to the type of grape and production process used. There are at least half a dozen varieties for you to drink your way through.
16. Switzerland: Absinthe
The Swiss may have a reputation for engineering and precision, but throw their national beverage absinthe into the mix and you’ll wonder how they ever got anything done. This popular anise-flavored spirit originated in Switzerland. Several countries around the world have banned absinthe for its alleged harmful hallucinogenic properties, but it’s a daring accompaniment to a dramatic Swiss backdrop.
17. Turkey: Rakı
Many people confuse Turkey’s rakı with rakia, but this anise-flavored drink belongs in a category of its own. With an ABV of 40-45%, it has the ability to pack a serious punch. Purists might drink it neat, but it’s also perfectly acceptable to add a touch of chilled water.
Of course, drinking too much of any of these national liquors might detract from an otherwise enjoyable trip. But if you’re heading to Europe with a Eurail Global Pass, there’s no reason why you can’t learn more about a region by responsibly savoring a few of these local delicacies.