It's so much more than the actual beverage – so much more than the glass of beer or wine or whatever it is you have in front of you. When you're travelling, drinking is the full experience. It's the people you share it with. It's the venue you drink it in. It's the centuries of culture and history, the love and the creativity that are represented in that small glass of deliciousness.
Drinking when you're travelling sometimes gets a bad name. It's so easy to picture the tour bus passengers in Europe boozing until they fall over, or the people who should know better making nuisances of themselves in south-east Asia. But imbibing on your travels doesn't have to be an over-indulgence; it doesn't have to be a source of conflict or morning-after shame.
Done right, drinking in a foreign place can be an experience to savour, an activity as culturally meaningful as any meal at a restaurant, or any tour of a city. Some of the world's most richly held traditions involve the consumption of alcohol, and some of the most enjoyable pursuits for travellers involve partaking in it.
The great thing about many of the entries below is that they're not necessarily dedicated tourism experiences, but life experiences. They're natural, normal, organic. They're a celebration of a cherished culture, and they're something everyone is welcome to join. Obey the local rules and drink in moderation, and these could quite possibly be some of the best travel experiences you ever have.
THE VENUE Dublin, Ireland
THE EXPERIENCE There's a reason almost every city in the world has its own attempt at an Irish pub – they're the best. Pubs in Ireland are more than just purveyors of pints of thick black Guinness: they're impromptu concert venues; they're makeshift lounge rooms; they're places for storytelling, for joke-cracking, for friend-making, for singing, dancing, and occasionally arguing. In Dublin, you'll get a warm welcome and a great pint at Kehoes (louisfitzgerald.com), and catch traditional music at Cobblestone (cobblestonepub.ie).
CHEERS Emirates flies from Australian ports to Dublin, via Dubai. See emirates.com/au
See also: Twenty reasons to visit Dublin
THE VENUE Tokyo, Japan
THE EXPERIENCE In most cultures, eating is not cheating – you always pair your drinking with good food. And that's where Tokyo excels. At any one of its izakayas, the small bars dedicated to the consumption of the rice wine sake, you can rely on being served a whole series of small dishes throughout the night, which could range from simple sashimi to highly sophisticated mini-meals. The atmosphere in Tokyo izakayas is friendly, convivial, and smoky – you'll make friends, you'll eat good food, you'll drink sake, and you'll come out stinking of cigarettes. Make 35 Steps, a rowdy izakaya in Shibuya, your first stop.
CHEERS Qantas flies from the east coast of Australia direct to Tokyo. See qantas.com
See also: Tokyo's unmissable quirky attractions
THE VENUE Provence, France
THE EXPERIENCE There are plenty of ways to enjoy wine in France, from visiting a vineyard in the countryside to sitting in a city bistro and pairing a glass of "vin rouge" with a meal. One activity that's growing in popularity, however, is a cycling tour of a wine region, a way of combining several of France's great passions. In Provence, cyclists can see world-famous vineyards, wineries and chateaux under the power of their own pedals, stopping for a tasting here and there before hitting the road once again to explore.
See also: 20 reasons to visit Provence
THE VENUE Lima, Peru
THE EXPERIENCE The dining scene in Lima, Peru is becoming globally recognised thanks to star chefs such as Virgilio Martinez and Gaston Acurio. What's not as widely acknowledged, however, is Lima's contribution to the world of cocktails, in particular with the pisco sour. This mix of pisco (a grape brandy), lime juice, sugar and egg white is a cherished local staple, and there's no better place to try it than Bodega Piselli, an old-school bar in the now trendy district of Barranco.
CHEERS LATAM Airlines flies from Sydney to Lima, via Auckland and Santiago. See latam.com/en_au
WINE OR BEER
THE VENUE Granada, Spain
THE EXPERIENCE Though you could feasibly go for "ir de copas", or a bar crawl, in the city of Granada without drinking, you would be missing an essential part of the experience. Tapas in Granada are simple plates of food that are designed to be taken with a drink, so much so that the only way to get hold of them is to order a beer or a glass of wine. Do that and the bartender will throw in a free tapa of his or her choice. The more you drink, the more you eat, and the more fun you will have.
CHEERS Emirates flies from Australian ports to Granada, via Dubai and Madrid. See emirates.com/au
GIN AND TONIC
THE VENUE African wilderness
THE EXPERIENCE There are few things in this world more satisfying that settling into a camp chair on the African savannah, gin and tonic in hand, to toast a day of adventuring while watching the sunset. The G&T was the staple drink of African travellers of old, thanks to the malaria-fighting chemical quinine that's found in tonic water, and the custom has lived on in the modern age. This is due in large part to the pure satisfaction of a cold, boozy beverage at the end of a day searching out the Big 5.
CHEERS Qantas flies direct from Sydney to Johannesburg, with onward connections to all ports in southern Africa. See qantas.com
THE VENUE Munich, Germany
THE EXPERIENCE Fourteen tents, 100,000 seats, 7.2 million people and 6.9 million litres of beer: the numbers alone tell you all you need to know about Munich's famed Oktoberfest (oktoberfest.de). This is a celebration of many things – life, tradition, friendship – but more than anything else it's a celebration of Bavaria's extremely good beer. Each tent at Oktoberfest is run by a local brewery, and patrons young and old gather in them each year to enjoy good food, good friends, and litre after litre of most excellent ale.
CHEERS Emirates flies from Australian ports to Munich, via Dubai. See emirates.com/au
THE VENUE Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
THE EXPERIENCE You really don't want to see what goes into the making of Brazil's national cocktail, the caipirinha: it's mostly sugar, scoops and scoops of it, with a little lime juice and a slug of the sugar-cane-based spirit cachaca. Instead, concentrate on the consumption of these delicious drinks, either at one of the beachside "kioscos" in Copacabana that hum with life day and night, or up in the Babilonia favela on the hill above – which has been "pacified" and is safe for tourists – where Bar do David has more than 200 types of cachaca.
CHEERS LATAM Airlines has flights from Sydney to Rio de Janeiro, via Auckland and Santiago. See latam.com/en_au
THE VENUE Barossa Valley, Australia
THE EXPERIENCE Australian wine might be inching its way towards worldwide recognition, but our wine tourism industry has long been a global leader. Here we do wine touring right: friendly cellar doors offering free tastings, wineries with high-quality restaurants attached, and plenty of companies to ferry you between them. Perhaps Australia's most established region, both in terms of wine and the tourism to support it, is the Barossa Valley. Here, try Artisans of Barossa (artisansofbarossa.com) for a one-stop wine tasting and lunch experience.
CHEERS Qantas flies from Australian capitals to Adelaide – see qantas.com – and the Barossa is a one-hour drive from the airport.
THE VENUE Fiji
THE EXPERIENCE It's true, kava is not alcoholic. But it's still a mood-altering beverage that's highly prized in its home not just for its effects, but for the tradition and culture that are linked to its consumption. To drink kava, or "grog" – a mildly sedative beverage created by mixing water with the root of the kava plant – in Fiji is to partake in local ritual, to sit on the ground in a circle and pass the coconut shell cup around, to clap once on receiving your kava, to drink deeply and then clap three times upon passing the empty shell back. There are few opportunities to slip so easily into local culture.
CHEERS Fiji Airways flies direct from east coast capitals to Nadi. See fijiairways.com
THE VENUE Yorkshire
THE EXPERIENCE There's been something of a revolution taking place in the British beer scene in the last decade or so, with drinkers turning away from mass-produced lagers in favour of locally brewed, traditional "real ales". One of the best areas to enjoy a pint of the good stuff, as well as the warmth and conviviality that comes with British pub culture, is Yorkshire. Choose a country pub at random: you really can't go wrong here. An old favourite, however, is the Jolly Farmer Inn in the town of Leavening, which always has four "hand-pulled" real ales on tap, and a log fire burning.
CHEERS Emirates flies direct from Australian ports to Manchester, via Dubai. See emirates.com/au. From there it's a one-and-a-half-hour drive to York.
THE VENUE Trans-Mongolian train
THE EXPERIENCE There's plenty of entertainment to be found while staring out of the window on the Trans-Mongolian, taking in the vast landscapes of the Mongolian Steppe, of Siberia, of the Gobi Desert. However, there's just as much fun to be had inside: namely, sharing alcoholic drinks of dubious origin with people who often share those same characteristics. Mongolians and Russians, in particular, have a deep love of vodka, and will usually be happy to share theirs – or yours – if you can drum up a few words of the local language. Start with either "za-zdarovye" or "eruhl mehdiin toloo": "cheers" in Russian and Mongolian.
CHEERS For more information on the Trans-Mongolian, see seat61.com
BEER ON THE ROCKS
THE VENUE Chiang Mai, Thailand
THE EXPERIENCE To Westerners it seems counter-intuitive – in fact, it seems plain wrong. Pouring your beer over ice. What? In Thailand, however, where refrigeration can be expensive and unreliable but ice is cheap, beer on the rocks is a commonly enjoyed beverage, and going to a place that serves large bottles of beer with buckets of ice is a sure-fire way of knowing you're in a locals-only establishment. The custom here is to share each bottle of beer among the whole group, to socialise, eat, and enjoy a long night doing it. Chiang Mai is full of these great local restaurants.
CHEERS Qantas flies from Australian ports to Chiang Mai, via Bangkok. See qantas.com
THE VENUE Mongolia
THE EXPERIENCE When you stay in someone's home, it's polite to eat whatever is offered to you. When you stay in a Mongolian's home – usually a "ger", a traditional felt-covered structure that dots the steppe – it's polite to drink whatever is offered, which will most likely be a challenging concoction called "airag". Airag is horse milk that has been left to ferment, meaning it's sour, slightly effervescent, and mildly alcoholic. We're not going to say it tastes good, but the experience of drinking it as a form of welcome into a family home is worth the challenge.
CHEERS Air China has flights from Sydney to Ulan Baator, via Beijing. See airchina.com.au
THE VENUE Pacific North-West, the US
THE EXPERIENCE Anyone labouring under the misapprehension that American beer is just watery lager like Budweiser needs to get to Pacific North-West states such as Washington and Oregon. Here it's all about craft beer, as local as possible, hop-driven pale ales and IPAs, experimental brews using seasonal ingredients. There are bars in Portland and Seattle where you'll be able to choose from 20 or 30 highly local, specialised and delicious beers. And of course chat to passionate purveyors about their product.
CHEERS Qantas flies from the east coast of Australia to Portland and Seattle, via Los Angeles. See qantas.com
FIVE DRINKS FOR TEETOTAL TRAVELLERS
It's not just the drink, though Italian espresso – rich, dark coffee drawn through an often decades-old machine – is undoubtedly great. It's also the ritual that makes Italian espresso memorable, the standing at the bar, the chat with friends, the quick slug of caffeine before heading back out into the day.
You can get a milkshake anywhere these days, but it's doubtful it will be as good as the milkshake you'll get in the US. Here they're served in a huge anodised cups, thick with ice cream and milk, flavoured with chocolate or strawberry, slung across a formica counter in a diner off a highway somewhere.
PU'ER TEA, CHINA
The ritual of preparing and drinking pu'er, a fermented tea from China's Yunnan province, is almost as subtle and complex as the beverage itself. Cups are washed, tea is brewed and discarded, brewed and discarded, and then brewed once again before being distributed into small cups and drunk.
CASHEW JUICE, BRAZIL
Though we in Australia associate the cashew plant with the nuts it produces, in Brazil the cashew fruit is just as highly prized. The juice from the cashew is sweet and delicious, with notes of mango and citrus, and you'll be able to find it in pretty much every supermarket and juice stand in Brazil.
HOT CHOCOLATE, COLOMBIA
This isn't what you're expecting. It isn't just a warm mixture of chocolate and milk. In Colombia, hot chocolate is served with cheese. Yes, cheese. Any white, gooey cheese will do. You simply dunk it into the hot chocolate, wait until it begins to melt, and gobble it up. Surprisingly delicious.
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