“It’s just an instant gut reaction”, sang Jamiroqaui.
When it comes to potent shots of alcohol, we couldn’t put it any better.
All too often, it’s the tipping point of the evening. That moment when your face takes a few seconds to catch up with the Armageddon going in inside you as a shot of local poison you’d never heard of until thirty seconds earlier introduces itself to your liver with all the subtlety of a nuclear missile.
From there, your sentences become less and less coherent, auto pilot takes over and the rest of the evening passes by as if viewed through a distorted, somewhat comical lens. Your eyes open regretfully and slowly many hours later, and you attempt to piece together the events of the night before, aided of course by the rest of your Stag party chipping in here and there with random images and recollections. And then you recall the drink that did it, the one that pushed you instantly into a different state of consciousness, and you regret ever being introduced to the horrible stuff. Until, that is, your hangover dissipates and you realise that it is this small shot glass of unpronounceable clear liquid that will forever hold the key toone of the best nights of your life.
For those amongst you heading to Europe any time soon for a Stag weekend, we present our favourite local tipples in our favourite locations; a selection of nasty and persuasive drinks that will assault your senses and leave several of your group begging for mercy. As always, we encourage you to kindly remember your internal organs at some point, for you will undoubtedly need them in future. That said, it would seem almost criminal to frequent any of these cities without making sure to sample the recommended firewater on offer. And you wouldn’t wish to appear rude now, would you?
Starting off in Ljubljana, we have several excellent recommendations, such as Močeradovec (mocheradovec), a delicious salamander brandy; Tavžentroža, which means “1,000 roses” and is a bitter little number; Pelinkovac, a wormwood-based liqueur; and Šljivovica (slivovica), a fruit brandy made from damson plums.
If you’re going to Benidorm and want a break from the beer, try Carajillo, which combines coffee, brandy, whisky, aniseed and rum. The origin of this drink dates back to the Spanish occupation of Cuba, and any alcohol that has a Cuban influence always merits special consideration.
When in Bratislava, we implore you to get a round of Tatranský čaj. This is a superb liqueur that possesses helpful digestive qualities as well as providing considerable assistance in your quest to get smashed. Don’t be frugal on the measures if you are the one pouring, and accept no wimpy excuses from any of the boys about shots not really being their “thing”. Two or three of these and you can almost hear your gut singing itself to sleep. Also recommended is Borovička, which is a bit like gin and makes your legs feel hollow after about half a dozen or so. There is also Hriatô, a typically Winter tipple that mixes strong alcohol with pork fat and is often served hot with some crackling to accompany it. Yes, it is absolutely as awful as it sounds, and yes, it totally does the job.
When talking about Becherovka, we must mention Prague at this point, since the stuff is mainly brewed in the Czech Republic and you are just as likely to discover it there as you are in Slovakia. Prague’s other hugely notable poison is Absinthe, the aniseed-flavoured evil green spirit that counts Oscar Wilde, Van Gogh and Bram Stoker’s Dracula amongst its many disciples. You might think you’ve already tasted it back home, but in certain Prague bars you will soon know what we mean when we say that the local stuff is very much the real thing. Can be taken with sugar, or necked as it is. Just stand well back if you go down this route…
When in Budapest, do as the Hungarians do, by which we mean throw a bit of Pálinka down your gullet. Pálinka is a traditional fruit brandy dreamt up in the Middle Ages and distilled in Hungary. It met with our approval a few years back when combined with a slice of bread smeared with goose fat and quickly followed by a cold beer, though those accoutrements are not obligatory by any means.The location offers some splendid vineyards typical of a good wine region, though our other suggestion here is Unicum, which could easily be described as a strong cough medicine that nips your liver and keeps you warm on a cold night. Try either, or both, and you can really say you’ve embraced Budapest culture.
Bucharest now, and there is one outstanding candidate to suggest to all Romanian-bound Stags: Tuica. This plum-based national drink is colourless in appearance – which is exactly how one or two of your party will look by dawn the next day, no doubt – and contains the kick of a mule for any brave souls eager to sample it.
Partying in What about Amsterdam then? Though many quality beers are everywhere around you, be well advised to try out some Jenever during your next Stag in this eternally magnetic city. Jenever is Dutch gin, and this is the drink many locals will prefer to get the job done on a Friday or Saturday night.
Should you be headed to Krakow for a Stag, know in advance that you are going to the Vodka capital. In particular, we cannot recommend Zabrowka enough. Known in English as Bison Grass Vodka, this is 40% proof and quite possibly the finest vodka known to man, woman or… well, bison I guess. It is custom, if you buy a bottle of it in a club, to crack the bottom of it with your elbow (ask your guide or that could end badly), but, however you open it, savour that delicious, warm and lethal taste as it moves down your body and envelops your digestive system. Some reckon it tastes of vanilla, and some would say almond. Having had it many times, I can only say with any certainty that it tastes glorious and is a credit to the Polish people.
One drink that boasts multiple countries devoted to its ample charms is Rakija, primarly of Sofia and Bulgaria, though also very much a recommendation if you’re in Belgrade or Zagreb too. Bulgaria is a fantastic country for wine, and Rakija is very much the national drink. Also known as “grappa”, depending on the part of the region you’re in, Rakija is a fruit-based brandy that packs one hell of a punch.
One of our favourite Eastern European Stag locations is Tallinn, and Estonia’s capital does not disappoint when it comes to contributing to this topic. Vana Tallinn, which means “Old Tallinn”, is a deliciously smooth herbal liqueur with a hint of rum about it, and a perfect way to take the night up a notch or two once the beers start to make you feel a bit bloated.
Kiev means that, at some stage in the proceedings, you’re going to face the question of whether you can handle a shot of Samogon, which is also known as “Russian Moonshine”. We don’t really need to say more than those two words, do we? Naturally, we will, if only to advise that you treat this drink with the same care and respect that you would if approaching an unexploded bomb. It’s a serious shot to the gut, and Ukrainians often make it at home. You have been warned.
Last, but by no means least, we come to Germany. If you’re in Frankfurt, why not try an Äppler, which is an apple wine mixed with cider, or Mispelchen (a nice liqueur), or Calvados, a tasty cider spirit? In Hamburg, discerning locals like Kümmelschnaps, which is a rather nice liqueur with a sweet taste, made from cumin and caraway, and dovetails nicely with your local beers. Should you find yourself in Berlin, we suggest Berliner Luft, which is a strong peppermint liqueur, and if you’re in Munich, though you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to alcohol, we recommend you try Weißbier – wheat beer. It is potent and carries a certain panache that we find most agreeable. Perhaps you’re going to Cologne, in which case you’re bound to sample the light beer known as Kölsch, and very tasty it is too, though as with all German locations we must make a case for Jägermeister as no Bavarian Stag trip would be complete with a few of those. Finally, if you’re heading to Dusseldorf, try some Alt, which is a dark, strong beer, and sure to get you more than tiddly after two or three.
For those who prefer not to drink alcohol, we commiserate and offer our deepest sympathy.
To the rest of you, don’t say we never do anything nice for you. Drink responsibly, but please try out at least one of these recommendations when you’re next away with the lads. “It might just be the beginning of a beautiful friendship”, as Humphrey Bogart says in the last line of Casablanca.