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The mere act of savouring a local beer and the pub culture surrounding it in Germany or Belgium, or downing a famous cocktail, shaken or stirred in the town, or even the bar, where it originated, such as Singapore or Havana, all served with a side of authentic local craic, canoffer intoxicating insights into a culture.
In fact, so attractive is the idea of a national cocktail to rival, say, Mexico's margarita or Peru's pisco sour, that Thailand once even tried to launch a "national cocktail". Remember the Siam Sunray? Thought not. It was a potent mix of vodka, coconut liqueur, a dash of chill, sugar, lime juice, lemon grass and ginger and topped with soda water. And it disappeared faster than a cold beer on a hot Bangkok night.
Really, you can't create an iconic drink. The best drinks that come to represent a city need time to work their way into a place's drinking DNA or, if they are new, they need to hit on an X Factor, not just shake up a greatest hits of the country or city's herbs and spices. Here then, based on this writer's travels, are, from a Vicious Virgin to a Mr Sin, 10 top picks of iconic city drinks.
Originally a twist on a gin sling, this popular pink drink is now synonymous with Singapore and the hotel that invented it, Raffles Hotel (raffles.com). A mix of gin, cherry Heering liqueur, Benedictine and pineapple and lime juice, the Sling was invented in the Raffles Long Bar and while you can still sample one there it is no longer in its original position in the hotel. There are now several popular variations of the original, including the tasty Courtyard Sling (take it in the Courtyard bar if you can withstand the humidity).
Really, you can't create an iconic drink. The best drinks that come to represent a city need time to work their way into a place's drinking DNA
Tipple tip Sit at the Long Bar bar, in among the scattered peanut shells on the floor, and watch the production line of Slings, the Long Bar does over a 1000 a day.
Fast, fresh and cheap, what's not to love about the signature drink of the capital of Vietnam? Bia hoi dates back to the French occupation and translates at "fresh beer" as it is brewed daily, has no preservatives and is delivered to the outlets (also known as bia hois) in barrels in the afternoon. Squatting on the plastic chairs of a bia hoi is one of the great pleasures of touring Vietnam, better still if you score some equally cheap and good street food from the same joint, though some only do drinks and nuts.
Tipple tip Go early, popular beer hois can run out of the brew.
Anything from the Tiki Ti Drinks Wheel
One of the original tiki huts to take Hollywood by storm, the Tiki Ti (tiki-ti.com) opened in 1967 when tropical drinks bartender Ray Buhen turned a former violin shop into one of the tiniest, and most authentic, tiki bars there ever was. You can grab a Zombie, a mai tai, a Vicious Virgin or a Missionary's Downfall but the real fun is to step up to the bar and spin the Tiki Ti Drinks Wheel. All the drinks are on there and you spin it game show-style. You might even get an Uga Booga (rum and juices, like most tropical drinks!), which means the people in the bar have a bit of a surprise for you.
Tipple tip Don't ask for a beer. Apart from the scorn that will be poured on you from tiki tragics, they don't serve it.
What else are you going to have in Havana, and where better than the landmark Hotel Nacional (hotelnacionaldecuba.com) perched on a hill surveying the artfully crumbling Cuban capital? This is the hotel where Hemingway, Churchill and Betty Grable all sipped this world famous concoction of rum muddled with mint leaves and lime and topped off with soda (well, they might have).
Tipple tip The secret to the Nacional's mojito is a quick dash of bitters that takes the sweet edge off. You'll notice the difference.
Harry's Bar (www.harrysbar.fr) calls itself the oldest cocktail bar in Europe (New York-style perhaps since that's where this bar originated) and at 103 years old it's certainly got some pedigree. It has a few signature tipples and claims to have invented the side car (cognac, Cointreau and lemon juice) but when in France head for the French 75 – a delicate mix of gin, lemon juice and sugar syrup topped with Champagne.
Tipple tip This is not the same Harry's Bar as in Venice, which invented that other great Champagne cocktail the Bellini (Champagne and peach puree), but do try that one as well.
While we are in the area of Champagne cocktails, when in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, don't miss out on a Femme Fatale (Champagne, cognac, crème de fraise sauvage) from the Elephant Bar at Raffles Hotel Le Royal (raffles.com/phnom-penh). The story goes that this cocktail was invented for Jackie Kennedy when she visited here in 1967 on her way to touring the temples at Angkor Wat. Served with a fresh purple orchid, this drink is one of the must dos in the Cambodian capital, just like a beer overlooking the river at the Foreign Correspondents Club.
Tipple tip Kennedy left some lipstick on her glass that is still displayed at the bar, but staff do admit to having given it a touch up over the years.
The dusty Kenyan capital seems designed to sell cold beer but that is not how the locals drink their Tusker. Tusker is drunk warm by the locals, but not just any kind of warm. A safari guide took us through his ritual one night in a small drinking hole – just four walls, some seats and the word "BAR" scrawled on the door in paint. Forget the Tuskers in the fridge, you take a warm one, ask for it to be put in the fridge and then wait for five minutes, no more, no less. Just enough cooling to take the warm edge off. There was a lot of feeling of the bottle and grimacing before our guide decided it was okay, then he poured three glasses and asked for another bottle to put on ice. It still tasted like warm beer to me, but he assured us it was the perfect way to drink Tusker and his enthusiasm was infectious.
Tipple tip if you want a posh, cold one however, try the Lord Delamere Terrace bar at the Fairmont the Norfolk Hotel (fairmont.com).
A French House beer
You could argue over many pints of bitter where the most storied place in London for a brew is but for mine the French House (frenchhousesoho.com), the famous Soho pub frequented by the area's artists, musos, actors and gangsters is the finest. An old-school show business bar without the glitz this pub has no music, no machines and a strict no phone calls rule: get seen on the mobile and you will be asked to leave. This is serious drinking bar for those who like their conversation.
Tipple tip Don't bother ordering a pint, you actually won't get one here, house lager only comes in halves.
Obvious? Sure. Delicious? You bet. They say that Guinness never tastes as good as it does in its hometown and who am I to argue. I'm not sure how many people have tasted a Dublin black brew and then taken a private plane to down another in Germany a few hours later to make the comparison, but there is something to sitting around Dublin's intimate pubs sipping at its most famous export outside of James Joyce.
Tipple tip You can visit the Guinness Storehouse (guinness-storehouse.com) for a tour and then get a free drink in the Gravity Bar after your visit to the temple to all things Guinness.
Invoking the sleaze and sex of Abe Saffron's Kings Cross, The Roosevelt (theroosevelt.com.au) is a dimly lit retro bar with a mid-century feel. Cocktail trolleys ply the floor and modern touches of liquid nitrogen jazz up the classics like the Nitro Colada. But it's the Mr Sin – Wild Turkey Rock n Rye, Tio Pepe, port and saffron – named after King of the Cross Saffron that is the standout drink. Served in a glass hand gun over ice it's gaudy and brassy, just like the era it represents.
Tipple tip The Carlotta (Ketel One Citroen, blueberry, lemon and sage), named after Les Girls best known dancer, is also worth a swig.