Four Unlikely Après Drinks

Where to find the secret—and good—mountain moonshines of the world.
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Where to find the secret—and good—mountain moonshines of the world.
Another day in Kyrgyzstan.

I didn’t find these drunk truck drivers (pictured above) dueling atop their crashed rig by accident. I went looking for characters like them on an assignment that took me to the glorious nation of Kyrgyzstan, a central Asian republic so obscure and miserable that you almost expect this kind of behavior. While other ski photographers bask in the manicured world of five-star lodges, chasing foie gras with champagne, I’ve somehow become the go-to guy when editors need stories shot amongst horse shit and human-rights violations. So if you take ski trips like mine, count on enjoying various moonshines served from a jerrican. Here are a few taste-tested potions.

Kefir (Central Asian Republics)

A full-bodied, sour, and curdled brew of fermented goat or horse milk, typically unpasteurized and served at room temperature. Taste: Brutal. Safety: Very safe at roughly three percent alcohol, because you’d be hard-pressed to stomach enough to get anywhere near a bad decision. Not recommended.

Baijiu (Western China)

A clear and potent moonshine distilled from rice. Taste: Like bad sake, ranging from tolerable to terrible. Safety: Moderate. Its potency varies, but even thimble-size shooters will catch up with you. Baijiu was good for washing down the fried insects and squirrel that my Chinese hosts served, which was a bonus. Not discouraged.

Kakheti (Georgia)

An opaque white wine tasting vaguely like dry apple cider. Taste: Excellent. Safety: Moderate to dangerous depending on the length of the dinner, the most epic of which, a supra, spans 20 courses. Every course is accompanied with its own toast. At the toast’s end, everyone yells “Gamarjos!” and drains a cup. Gamarjos means “victory,” though the inevitable public puking (common and tolerated) will make you feel like a loser. Recommended.

Bhang Lassi (India, Nepal)

Although it’s technically not an alcoholic beverage, this yogurt milkshake made with cannabis extract is worth a mention for its creativity alone. Taste: Sweet, though not too sweet, and velvety. Safety: Exercise caution, but bhang lassi can lighten up any situation, like your daily experience with India’s petty theft and dysentery. Recommended.