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7 Must-Try Alcohols from Around the World, and Where to Drink Them in the USA

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by Justina Huddleston, food writer for the Menuism Blog

photo by Chris Pople/Flickr

Getting tired of the same old vodka, gin, whiskey, rum, and tequila? Luckily, there's a world of spirits out there that you probably haven't tried. From Mexico to Turkey and beyond, these are the seven international spirits you should keep an eye out for.

1. Tepache - Mexico

Made from fermented pineapple rinds, tepache is a refreshing, mildly alcoholic agua fresca brewed with piloncillo (unrefined cane sugar) and cinnamon. It's often mixed with beer or liquor to boost its alcohol content.

Try it in the Tepache Fizz at Broken Spanish in Los Angeles, a cocktail featuring blanco tequila, genever, East Indian cream sherry, lemon, pineapple tepache soda, cinnamon, and spices.

2. Baijiu - China

Baijiu (meaning "white alcohol") is a clear, high-proof booze made from distilled, fermented sorghum. It can be made with other grains (like rice, wheat, or barley), depending on where you are in China.

The fragrance of baijiu (which is what baijiu connoisseurs look for) can vary wildly, from the pungent "sauce" fragrance, considered to be the top-shelf option, to light fragrance. It is also sometimes flavored with flowers, sugar, and even pork fat.

Because of its robust and unique flavor, baijiu is usually drank straight up, but restaurants and bars are incorporating it into cocktails more and more often. Try baijiu at LA's Peking Tavern. The Wong Chiu Punch features Red Star baijiu, hibiscus, and fresh lemon juice.

3. Cachaça - Brazil

Similar to white rum, cachaça is a clear spirit made from sugarcane juice. It's the most ubiquitous spirit in Brazil, and the key ingredient in the caipirinha cocktail.

The caipirinha is made by muddling sugar and lime, then adding cachaça and plenty of ice. The drink packs a citrusy, boozy punch, and you can try one at Muqueca Restaurant in Cambridge, MA.

4. Aquavit - Nordic

This Nordic spirit (also known as akvavit or akevitt) is a high-proof alcohol usually flavored with caraway or dill. It is often consumed alongside dark beer.

Most aquavits, like those from Denmark and Sweden, are un-aged and served chilled. Norwegian aquavit is aged in sherry casks and served at room temperature, so that one can pick up on the nuanced flavors.

You can try several house-made aquavits at New York City's aptly named Aquavit, which boasts a menu that includes aquavits flavored with everything from horseradish to strawberry and hibiscus.

5. Raki - Turkey

Raki is an anise-flavored alcohol from Turkey. It's made from grapes and flavored with aniseed. Raki turns cloudy and white when mixed with water, earning it the nickname "lion's milk."

Raki is usually drank straight up or mixed with water, but you can try a Rakijito at Zaytinya in Washington, DC.

6. Amarula liqueur - South Africa

Amarula is a sweet cream liqueur made from the fruit of the marula tree, similar to Bailey's. The spirit hails from South Africa, though it's popular in Brazil as well.

Try Amarula on the rocks or in a cocktail at Mozambique Steakhouse in Laguna Beach, CA.

7. Soju - Korea

You may not have heard of soju before, but you probably will soon. This up-and-coming spirit is wildly popular in Korea, and it's making a splash in the US, too. In fact, in 2014 Jinro brand Soju was the best-selling alcohol in the world.

Soju is a clear alcohol, ranging in ABV from 16.7-45%. It's usually made from rice, wheat, or barley, though sometimes it's made from potato or sweet potato, too. It's also relatively inexpensive.

Soju can be enjoyed in pretty much any Korean restaurant or bar in the US, but you'll be especially likely to encounter it in the bustling Koreatowns of Los Angeles and New York City. Soju is consumed as a shot, or as an ingredient in a variety of cocktails.

Try the popular blue lemon soju pitcher at Thirteen XIII Soju Bar in Los Angeles to get a taste of this spirit's versatility.

Justina Huddleston is a food writer living in Los Angeles. When she's not writing for Menuism or SheKnows, she spends her time in the kitchen creating both virtuous and decidedly junky vegan food. Buffalo chickpea pizza, anyone? She's also been known to eat a plain block of tofu or beans straight out of the can for lunch, but somehow those culinary adventures don't make it to her Instagram. You can follow Justina on Twitter or see what's cooking in her kitchen on her blog A Life of Little Pleasures.