When in Rome, toast as the Romans do! From traditional welcome drinks to concoctions made with local ingredients, we’ve put together a list of signature cocktails from different countries to bring in World Cocktail Day. By Eshita Srinivas
Authentic travel experiences are often synonymous with learning important local phrases and dining at hole-in-the-wall establishments with traditional delicacies. That said, most countries also have their own libations that offer an insight into their unique history and way of life. If you enjoy cultural travel, add these signature cocktails of countries around the world to your travel bucket list. And for those who can’t quite head on a world tour just yet, we’ve added in easy-to-follow recipes that make great additions to one’s drinking repertoire.
Whet your whistle like a local with these countries’ signature cocktails
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- Thailand: Sabai
- Malaysia: Jungle Bird
- Singapore: Singapore Sling
- Cuba: Mojito
- Brazil: Caipirinha
- Spain: Sangria
- Peru: Pisco Sour
- Bermuda: Rum Swizzle
- Puerto Rico: Pina Colada
- Belgium: Black Russian
- Mexico: Margarita
- Italy: Aperol Spritz
- Argentina: Fernet con Coca
- Colombia: Refajo Colombiana
- United Kingdom: Pimm’s Cup
The “land of smiles” is known for its gracious hospitality and most travellers who head here are pleasantly surprised by the warmth of the citizens. An integral part of this experience is the signature welcome drink Sabai (or Sabai Sabai). The base ingredient of this concoction is Mekhong, the official spirit of Thailand, which also happens to be its first domestically-produced spirit. The sweet, spicy, and herbal notes of the spirit are combined with lemon juice, sugar syrup, sweet basil, and soda to create this delicious beverage. The drink is often served to guests in Thailand and intends to make them feel at home.
Head to a local watering hole in Malaysia, and chances are you’ll spot the bartenders whipping up a blend of sweet pineapple, dark rum, Campari, and lime. Although a popular feature in bar menus across the globe, the Jungle Bird is believed to have been created in 1978 in the former Kuala Lumpur Hilton’s Aviary Bar. The refreshing ingredients of this libation draw from the tiki cocktail era, which emphasized rum-based fruity concoctions. The acidity of pineapple balances the sweetness of rum, and the bitterness of Campari ties it together. The drink is believed to be quintessentially Malaysian and a must-have when visiting the region.
Perhaps one of the most popular signature drinks, the Singapore Sling also has an origin history tied to a hotel bar. Created in 1915 at Ngiam Tong Boon, the concoction was brought to life by a bartender who wanted to offer women a socially acceptable way of drinking. Traditional etiquette of the time-limited women to tea or juice, while the men could enjoy spirits. So the bartender whipped up a fruity, colourful beverage that looked like juice, cleverly disguising gin and liqueur. Today, the drink is wildly popular in the “lion city.” Ingredients of this beverage include gin, pineapple juice, cherry brandy, Cointreau, Benedictine, grenadine, and bitters, and the drink promises a burst of flavour with every sip. Grab one on your next visit.
Bartenders across the world have this classic cocktail or versions of this in their repertoire, but its origins lie in Cuba. The country was a large producer of rum and sugarcane in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the availability of these ingredients gave birth to the drink. A blend of lime juice, potent rum, sugarcane, and mint, the libation gained popularity when the Prohibition era drove Americans, including novelist Ernst Hemingway, to Havana. Today, the Cuban Mojito is a classic highball cocktail.
A popular sight in bars across Brazil, most people confuse this with a mojito, but the drink is made with muddled limes instead of mint. The Caipirinha also features cachaça, a spirit made from fermented sugarcane juice. The refreshing libation has a muddled history but is largely believed to have been created by farmers in Sao Paulo in the 19th century for parties. The refreshing beverage is the country’s national drink and central to the identity of Brazilians, almost as much as samba and soccer. Since fresh fruit is in abundance, you might find variations with passionfruit and strawberry at street carts on your visit to the country.
Ancient Greek and Roman civilizations combined wine with sugar and spices. The latter brought the concoction to Spain when they occupied the region in 200 BC and planted vineyards at several spots. The Spanish wine industry flourished, and palatable drinks such as wine punch became popular. People in the region enjoy communal meals and gatherings, quickly taking to Sangria, especially since it’s served in large jugs that are perfect for group events. White or red wine acts as the base of the concoction, and fruits like melons, mangoes, kiwis, and grapes are added to it, along with spices like cinnamon and ginger.
Peru’s national cocktail is a delicious blend of egg whites, lime, bitters, and brandy (Pisco). It was created in the 1900s in Lima as a variation of the whiskey sour by Victor Vaughen Morris, a bartender from Utah who had moved to the country for work. It soon grew in popularity, with celebrities like Orson Welles and Ava Gardner raving about the drink. Today, the beverage is an esteemed part of Peruvian culture, so much so that it has its own day (National Pisco Sour Day), which is celebrated every first Saturday of February.
Another national drink that has its origins in a pub, Rum Swizzle, is a blend of rum, triple sec, orange, pineapple, lemon, spices, and bitters. A staple in most bars across the region, the island’s oldest pub, The Swizzle Inn, is credited with creating the drink in the 1900s. At the time, the prominent local family that owned the inn used whatever limited set of ingredients were available on the island for the drink and used a stick cut from the indigenous swizzle tree stick to agitate the liquid and make it foamy, hence the name Rum Swizzle. Over the years, locals added their own spins to the drink, and several variations feature across menus today.
In 1954, Ramon Marrero, a bartender at the Caribe Hilton, experimented with different ingredients before creating a cocktail that he believed captured the sunny sands and tropical culture of Puerto Rico. His version contained a frothy blend of coconut cream, rum, and pineapple. His coworker Ricardo Garcia gave the drink its name and added strained pineapple juice to the mix, deciding to serve it in a hollowed-out coconut. While most historians attribute this tale to the origin of Pina Colada, few other reports credit it to Ramon Portas Mignot, a bartender at Barrachina in San Juan. Some go back to the 1800s, linking the beverage to Puerto Rican pirate Roberto Cofresi. Despite the blurry details, the drink’s popularity led to it being named the region’s national drink and is a must-have for visitors.
Created in 1949 in Brussels, this drink is credited to a bartender named Gustav Tops, who blended vodka and Kahlua in honour of the US ambassador to Luxembourg. The intense, flavourful beverage was named Black Russian due to its colour and base spirit, which was a popular Russian drink. Now, the concoction is popular across bars in the country, particularly Brussels and is served on the rocks in an old-fashioned glass without garnishes.
The origin story of this popular cocktail is muddled with differing reports. One attributes its creation to a bar owner in Tijuana who, it is claimed, wished to appease a dancer who only drank tequila but didn’t wish to take a shot. Another story states that the drink came about during one of the many lavish parties thrown in Acapulco by Texas socialite Margaret Sames, hence the name Margarita. The common thread between most reports is the region of creation, Mexico. This sweet, sour, bitter blend of Cointreau, lime juice, and tequila that’s served in a glass with a salted rim now has its national day in Mexico, which is celebrated on 22 February every year.
Described as an Italian sunset in a glass, this orange-red drink is a popular summer choice across the world. The story of its origin goes that in 1919 Luigi and Silvio Barbieri created the aperitif Aperol, marketing it to women due to its low alcohol volume. As its popularity grew, bartenders began experimenting with it, particularly in Veneto. Many added it to the German spitz, Italian wines with splashes of water, introduced to Italy post the Austro-Hungarian wars. The aperitif and its concoction soon grew in popularity, becoming the face of luxurious lunchtime and summer evening indulgence. The classic recipe includes prosecco, soda water, and bitters and is a popular feature across the country’s bars.
Fernet Branca, an Italian flavoured liqueur, was consumed in Argentina primarily as a digestif a little over 30 years ago. Eventually, a combination of marketing and evolving youth culture led to it being paired with cola. Although the exact origin of this combination is up for debate, most reports point to the town of Cordoba, where students and concert-goers would top off cola bottles with Fernet Branca for communal drinking. Then, a coordinated ad campaign from Coca-cola and Fernet Branca furthered the popularity of this unique pairing. Soon enough, the combination spread through the country, firmly establishing itself in the fabric of the culture of the capital city Buenos Aires. The correct proportions of this drink aren’t determined, with different bartenders going by their palate and that of their customers. A popular version is the 90210 cocktail, which is often consumed to beat hangovers and includes 90 percent Fernet, 10 percent Coca Cola, and two ice cubes.
Family gatherings are an integral part of Colombian culture. Along with a host of delicious food, a common sight at most is Refajo Colombiano. The refreshing concoction blends equal parts local Colombiana soda and beer. It pairs well with grilled meats. The flavour is akin to that of an American soda and offers a fizzy punch. Most every place that serves up alcohol in the country will have this drink on offer.
Refreshing, summer drink Pimm’s Cup is a gin-based creation that is credited to a fish seller and bar owner James Pimm. Marketed in the 1840s as a medicinal tonic, the blend quickly gained popularity over the next 20 years and by 1859 was being sold commercially. The most sales of the beverage (approximately 200,000), to date, are made reportedly at Wimbledon each year. The ingredients for the drink include Pimm’s gin, sparkling lemonade, and certain fruits like strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and sprigs of mint and you can grab a glass at any bar in the UK.
Hero and feature image: @2virejai/Instagram
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