Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Liquid Souvenirs From Abroad

Photo by: Nicole Holt

A while back Robin Sue at Big Red Kitchen asked what kind of souvenirs people are in the in the habit of bringing home from their travels in this post. I remember answering that I bring back stories and experiences as they are more valuable than any material thing that I could carry home with me. After much contemplation on this question I have realized that there is a material thing, aside from candy, that I like to bring back with me: distilled spirits and wine.

Since my trip to Chile in 2005 I have occasionally brought home a bottle or two with me of a local spirit. Most of these times these are beverages that are hard to come by or simply are not available in the United States. The rarity and novelty of these spirits make them all the more special, and every time I enjoy them I am instantly transported to the time and place that they were acquired.

Come along with me as I recall the experiences that I have had in collecting several of the bottles from my humble collection.

Chile: Pisco

I found this at the Santiago airport in the duty free shop. This is the only time that I’ve purchased alcohol in a duty free shop. The day prior I was on the coast of Chile, and stumbled across a liquor store, but I didn’t purchase anything. At the airport the bottle caught my eye as it was in the shape of a Moai (the stone idols of Easter Island). I thought this would be a good addition to my tiki collection so I purchased it.

I would later find out that much better quality of Pisco was available, but I was really only going after the bottle. The Pisco Sour is a favorite drink in Chile which requires egg white to give the drink a good froth.

Taiwan: Sorghum Liquor

After several days in Taiwan I went to a 7-11 and purchased a small bottle of Sorghum Liquor. It is a local spirit of Taiwan, but I’ll admit that I have never tasted it as I have never been able to wrap my nose around this one. If anyone knows a good cocktail using this spirit, I'd love to hear about it.

Australia: Rum

Bundaburg rum to be precise, also known as ‘Bundy’. It is said that if an Australian doesn’t drink beer then you can bet that they drink Bundy. This spirit is so popular in Australia that you can find it premixed in cans with cola (rum and cola) and gingerbeer (dark and stormy).

While in Australia I had a rum and coke with one of the best steaks that I ever had; it was a good night. The second time that I had Bundy was on the airplane home in the form of a dark and stormy.

Russia: Vodka

What else could I bring back from Russia other than vodka? This trip was tough on my body: I aggravated my knee, caught a cold and damaged my ear. Despite these trials I was determined to bring back some vodka. The low prices and large selection were unbelievable. I just stared at the wall of vodka dumbfounded; I loved it.

I've purchased several bottles of wine from Germany and France but wine doesn't stick around long enough for me to recall the characteristics in great detail. I do remember purchasing a bottle of Muller-Thurgau however. I was in a little shop in Greifswald just before closing time. The shopkeeper looked at me, looked at her watch and then looked back at me. I smiled, and hurried to find a bottle the suited me and my budget. Upon taking it to the counter the shopkeeper looked at her watch, and smiled as I had just made it.

Sadly I was rushed in this particular shop because on one side of the store there were large glass vessels containing bulk distilled spirits of different kinds; many scotches, and even absinthe. They sold empty bottles there, but I assume that you could also bring your own. If I ever get back to Greifswald I'll definitely pay that shop a visit.

Bringing it Home:

Unfortunately, with the current safety regulations in place, it is very difficult to bring alcohol along with you on a flight. With the number of layovers that you can have on a given international trip purchasing at the duty free shop is usually not an option. I have found that purchasing my spirits prior to arriving at the airport, wrapping them in jeans or slacks and packing them in my checked bag works best for me.

At any rate, those are the bottles that I’ve collected so far. I am amazed how these simple bottles have the ability to transport me to places I’ve visited. What spirits have you brought home from your travels?

If you've enjoyed this post please consider subscribing to the RSS feed.


  1. That Russian Standard vodka is tasty. My wife and I just brought back a bottle in September. And it's from St. Petersburg, which my Russian friend (who is from that city) insists is the best place for vodka.

  2. I'm quite looking forward to opening that bottle myself. I did note that my local liquor store happened to have Russian Standard vodka. I guess it pays to do a little research before going shopping in a foreign country.

  3. You're lucky to be able to get it so easily. I don't think I've seen it over here. Now if I could just figure out where to get Burmester port...

  4. Hey Graham- Great Post! You have really brought home some interesting Spirits. Coming back from Boston we brought back a ton of Belgian beer and have enjoyed tasting them ourselves or with friends. We try to remember which ones we like and dislike. There is a Belgiam Beer tour in September which we would love to go on (curse the bloody economy though). I think it would be neat to go and try before you buy! Have you ever taken a wine or beer tour holiday?

  5. I've visited a winery but I've never been on a beer or wine holiday. I don't drink beer for personal reasons but I'm familiar with the process. What I would like to do is to visit a distillery some day.

  6. I spent a month in Australia and am dying to know who doesn't drink beer. I'm serious.

  7. I brought some great rum back from Cuba and I have a homemade bottle of liquor a friend of a friend gave me in Brazil which I am scared to try. Oh if you ever go to Georgia you should definitely get some of the local wine if you can. My brother brought some back and it was amazing and so much different than any other wine I've had.

    I'm also not a beer drinker. Just not crazy about the taste...

  8. Craig: Thanks for the wine tip, I'll keep that in mind the next time I get down to Georgia. Illegal Cuban rum? That story could have ended poorly. I bet it's good stuff though. I have tasted some Cuban rum but it wasn't of very good quality. I'll have to find a bar that I can taste the good stuff next time I'm in Canada.