It’s no secret that the best and the worst drinks in the world are homemade. In some countries often very sneaky. In basements or in forests by the light of the moon. Therefor moonshine is another word for illegally distilled liquor. We selected 20 of them from around the world that you must try before you die. If one of them doesn’t kill you of course, cause not all of them are free of risk. Yes, some of the greatest spirits in the world are made with a small still, natural ingredients and the expertise of generations of moonshiners. But the worst ones might make you blind or even kill you. Especially in African and Asian countries, but also Russia, it’s important to be careful what you drink. Get yourself a local guide you can trust and he or she will lead you to the tasty treats that country has to offer. That being said, let’s start our journey around the world in 20 home distilled drinks.
Even though alcohol is strictly forbidden in Iran it’s not that hard to get if you know the right people. Behind the surface of this Islamic country there’s a flourishing black market for prostitution, gambling and of course alcohol. Arak is the traditional drink of Iran as well as countries like Irak, Jordan and especially Lebanon. The original arak had anise flavor like ouzo or mastika and it’s usually distilled from fermented fruits. You should watch out for arak made with pure ethanol that was intended for chemical use since those drinks can be harmful. Also people died before because of a lack of sanitation during the distillation process.
Polish liquor from the stores in general is from a pretty high quality and not very expensive either. Still there are some people that hold on to their own homemade stuff. Bimber is made from potatoes or fruits. It’s probably harder to find moonshine in Poland than it is in other Central-European countries like Hungary or Slovakia, but when you do brace yourself. In the Polish countryside they drink beer like water and vodka like beer. Bimber is just their next step. Officially home distillation is illegal in Poland since 2004 but the authorities do very little to stop people from doing it anyway.
If you are tired of the Copa Cabana you might want to check out the inlands of Brazil. The countryside of the biggest nation in Latin America has a great moonshine culture, simular to the one you find in the Balkans. Many farmers have a small still where they produce cachaça from sugar cane or other spirits. The quality of these drinks is usually excellent.
As you might remember Georgia is a real wine country. No wonder the traditional strong drink is also made from grapes. However the word chacha also covers moonshines made from other fruits like figs, oranges, tanderines or even mulberries. Making your own chacha is not illegal in Georgia and therefor many people in the countryside keep this tradition alive. The alcohol percentage usually lays in between 45 and 60 percent.
The collective name for spirits made from fermented fruits. Although cusha is very popular in the countryside not all are safe to drink, so a local guide you can trust is quite important. The nice thing about cusha is that it’s used for Mayan rituals and festivities. Also the shamans spit this drink with ‘cleansing powers’ on their patients to heal them.
Homemade liquor, as well as the legal distilled spirits, in Nepal and Tibet is usually called raksi. However using grain for anything else than human consumption (and only in food) is forbidden by law. So any liquor from grain is also illegal, yet it exists. Daru is the normal version but double-daru is distilled twice and therefor much stronger. For sure a drink for our bucketlist.
Well it’s no wonder why people make their own alcohol in Norway. As we explained in our article Welcome to hell a.k.a. Scandinavia we explained how difficult and/or expensive it is to get your drink on in this country. The counter effect of these extreme measures by the goverment is a flourishing moonshiners scene. Hjemmebrent literally means home burned. Usually it’s made from potatoes. The percentage can go up quite high and in the the coldest parts of Norway there’s a version called ni seks, which stands for 9-6 or 96% alcohol. No wonder Norwegians often mix their moonshine with coffee (this mix is known as karsk) or apple juice.
Hokonui moonshine (New Zealand)
The word Hokonui stands for the Hokonui Hills, which can be found in the absolute south region of New Zealand conveniantly called Southland. In the 19th century the Hokonui Hills gained a reputation simular to the Appalachian Mountains in the United States as an area for moonshiners. Nowadays home distillation is no longer forbidden but rather considered folklore. An example for many other countries!
Kasippu (Sri Lanka)
This drink from Sri Lanka is as primitive as you can have it. The ingredients of kasippu are simply normal white sugar of sugarcane and Sri Lankan yeast. Sri Lanka is also one of the countries in the world where most people die of illegally distilled liquor. So why drink this shit you ask? Well, experts estimate that 50 to 90 % of all alcoholic beverages consumed in Sri Lanka are actually illegal. The chance of getting lethal kasippu is a lot smaller than getting killed in the local traffic. So if you’re already there, you might as well pick up a bottle.
Like many Scandinavian countries Iceland has a pretty shitty system where it comes to alcohol control. It’s hard to get and expensive. But it used to be worse. Before 1989 no drinks stronger than 2,25% were allowed on the island. In the times before the ban was lifted many people were making good money on moonshine. Nowadays it’s still a good profit. Or by avoiding the huge taxes or by selling it after closing hours or to teenagers. Landi is usually made from potatoes, indoor with little stills. The percentage of alcohol lays around 40%.
Lao Lao (Laos)
Well there’s rice wine and rice wine. The legal brands in Asia are usually between 10 and 20 percent, well not Lao Lao, which is usually distilled 5 (!) times. Home distillation is officially illegal, but the authorities rarely do anything about it. Many villages in Laos have one communal still where all habitants make their moonshine.
Lotoko (Democratic Republic Congo)
Another drink where you have to mind your health. Lotoko is a whisky made from corn, cassava or plantain. It’s said that the most common corn version contains high levels of methanol which is toxic. So try to get your hands on lotoko prepared from less dangerous cassava or plantains. The alcohol percentage in general is over 50%.
Moonshine (United States)
The culture of making moonshine in the United States came up in the 2nd half of the 19th century after the introduction of land taxes. The beating heart of this culture was in the Appalachian Mountains as we described in our story about Lewis Redmond, the Robin Hood of Moonshiners, as well as the surrounding states. During the prohibition between 1920 and 1933 the moonshiners had another golden period. In modern days many people in the traditional ‘moonshine states’ still swear by the strong homemade stuff from their typical jars rather than legal products.
A traditional drink distilled from fruits or berries. Oghi is often made from mulberries, grapes, cherries, plums or apricots. Most people in the countryside have their own little still. Another fun fact is that in Iran – that we discussed before – most of the homemade liquor is said to come from ‘Armenian bathtubs’. With aproximately 120.000 to 150.000 Armenians form Iran’s biggest Christian community and unlike their countrymates from Muslim families they have the knowledge to make their own alcoholic beverages, valuable contacts.
The traditional drink from Hungary that is distilled from fruits. Plum and apricot are popular flavors, but also strawberry, pear, apple, cherry or grapes are quite common. Anyone in Hungary who wants to make pálinka can bring his fermented mash to a distiller who will legally distill the booze to the required amount of alcohol. Still many people prefer to handle this part of the process themselves. Pálinka is also popular in Romania and Slovakia, countries with a lot of ethnic Hungarians.
The great thing about the national drink in Peru is that everyone can produce and sell it as much as they want, since there are no regulations at all. This is quite unique for the region. A great result is that it’s pretty easy to find good quality pisco for a reasonable price. We wrote more about this drink in our post Let’s have a round of pisco for Peru.
Yet another country that suffered a lot because of stupid alcohol laws. A good thing Finland has endless uncultivated lands, full of forests and lakes. The country therefor developed a real moonshine culture, even though home distillation has been forbidden since 1866. But nothing could stop the habbitants from making their own vodka, that goes by the name of pontikka. Not even the prohibition between 1919 and 1932. Nowadays people are wealthy enough to buy their liquor, also because the current alcohol laws are not as bad anymore. Distilling your own alcohol (although still illegal) is more or less allowed by the authorities, but few people still do it. From a historical point of view it would be nice to find some of these die hards.
Rakia/Raki/Rakija (The Balkans)
No matter how big the differences may be from time to time between the different habbitants of the Balkan peninsula, they have one thing in common: rakia. Or rakija or raki, depends in which country you are. In countries like Serbia or Bulgaria this drink is almost sacred. The drink that usually contains between 40 and 70% alcohol is an important part of the local culture. New laws to control home distillation or the selling of homemade stuff are hard to vindicate since everyone is doing it. Every family has at least one person who is specialized in making rakia and politicians and officers of the law know better than to harm this folklore. The quality is usually excellent and therefor the drink is safe to drink for everyone. Although untrained tourists might want to add some water to soften the blow.
This Russian drink is basically made with whatever is easiest. If it’s near and not to expensive you can make alcohol with it. From malted grain (as in the traditional samogon) to beets, potatoes, bread, fruits or simply sugar, Russians will use it to for their home distillation. Although it’s impossible to measure it’s asumed that on a yearly basis more samogon is consumed than vodka. The alcohol percentage can go up to 80% and unfortunately not all the homemade stuff is as safe to drink as in Europe.
This is a traditional gin made from banana’s. Although there are many legal brands now that use the name waragi the ‘real one’ is a true moonshine that got it’s name from the words war gin. Nowadays it’s usually kept in jerrycans that are being passed around in the villages. Even many children drink it. Which makes it not surprising that Uganda outranks every other African nation in alcohol consumption. Once again we need to warn you that also with waragi accidents happen, so be careful.
Related articles on Lords of the Drinks:
The U1600 Tour (past the oldest pubs and bars in Europe)