Pretty much everywhere you go, you’re going to find some kind of fermented drink. And while sampling all the different types of alcohol in the world is a worthy pursuit, we’re usually more interested in the culture around the drink. Every culture’s put its own mark on a fairly universal pastime, so our globetrotting is much more about what people do around the drink, not the drink itself. These are the six most interesting drinking traditions around the world.
Germany | Bridal Kidnapping
In The Office, a lot of Dwight Schrute’s claims about German traditions are dubious at best. Which is what we originally thought about when Mose kidnaps Angela on the eve of Dwight and Angela’s wedding. But apparently, that’s rooted in real German tradition. In Germany, a wedding traditionally lasts three days and on the night of the third day, the best man would kidnap the bride and take her to a local drinking establishment. Once the groom found her, he’d have to buy his wedding party a round of drinks, just like Dwight does in the show. Which makes us wonder about how real of a tradition Dwight’s shotgun blasts to his aunt’s corpse are.
Japan | Selfless Pouring
The best drinking traditions are the ones that emphasize the togetherness of your trip to the bar, pub, cafe or wherever else you’re hanging out. We’re thinking about going for rounds with friends, unexpected prepaid drinks and even the infamous shotski. But we can’t find a more inclusive tradition than the way the Japanese pour their drinks, in that they don't actually pour their own drinks. They generally pour for those they’re drinking with, who then, in turn, fill the original pourer’s glass. For westerners worried about possibly falling behind in drinks, we’d like to reassure you by saying the Japanese are extraordinarily attentive when it comes to how much is left in your glass. You won’t go dry at any point.
England and the United States | Wassail
Wassailing has a long history behind it, going from the word spoken over a toast in ancient England, to a specific drink made during the medieval period, to an activity consisting of poor people harassing the wealthy into feeding them and getting them drunk at Christmas, and finally mellowing out into a drink and a few carolers filled with holiday cheer. And while we’re bummed we missed out on the times we could stand outside our rich neighbor's house yelling at them until they fed us mulled wine, we’re happy to be around for the times when wassailing means sitting around with close friends and family, sharing hot drinks and singing a few songs.
Haro, Spain | The Wine Fight
In the 13th century, the people living in Haro had to mark the borders between their town and the neighboring town of Miranda de Ebro every year on Saint Peter’s Day. Today, the same occasion is marked by splashing wine over everyone and everything within your throwing range, using whatever vessel, instrument or other container capable of holding liquid. After the “Batalla de Wino,” everyone heads back into town for food, more drinks, general partying and a far more animal-friendly version of bullfighting. It’s an evolution we generally approve of.
Kazakhstan | Kumis
What’s interesting about kumis isn’t so much what it’s used for (a fairly standard ceremonial libation) as it is what it’s made of and the history behind it. Kumis is fermented mare’s milk and is deeply tied into the nomadic lifestyle of ancient Kazakh ancestors. The lives of the nomads on the Central Asian steppe revolved around the horse in such a way that it’s hard to find a modern equivalent. The only thing that comes close is the way some modern people feel about their smartphones (hopefully that doesn’t make us sound like pandering luddites). But even that analogy breaks down when you consider the smartphone is a manufactured dependency, whereas the steppe nomads absolutely would have died without their horses. Kumis is a holdover from that ancient lifestyle and one that still holds an immense amount of importance to the people of Kazakhstan.
Sourdough Saloon, Dawson City, Yukon, Canada | The Sourtoe Cocktail
Let’s get really weird to close this article out. The Sourdough Saloon’s claim to international fame is dropping a mummified, amputated toe into your cocktail. At this point, the drink’s origin is as much oral history or legend as it is true events, but we’ll give you the important points. In the early '70s, Captain Dick Stevenson, a Yukon local, found a pickled toe in a jar while he was cleaning out his cabin. Naturally, he brought that toe with him to the bar and began dropping it into the beverages of the bravest drinkers. Someone got too brave and accidentally swallowed the toe. Seven toes later (people keep swallowing these things) and you drop the toe into whatever you order at the bar. The only rule is, “You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow—but the lips have gotta touch the toe.”
We’re gagging as we write this.