The lesser-known spirits you should try at least once

You may be an expert in fine wine, or know the difference between Scottish and Irish whisky (or should that be, whiskey?), but how much do you know about some of the more obscure alcoholic spirits? Palinka, anyone? The rise in popularity of mixology has seen us become more experimental in our tastes, so, the next time you’re doing an online wine shop or wine delivery, think about adding one of the following to your basket. 


A distilled beverage made from agave, mezcal has seen a huge rise in popularity in recent years, joining its Mexican compadre tequila, as a must on any bartender’s shelf. It can be made from 30 different types of agave and is divided into three categories, according to age: joven (0-2 months), reposado (2-12 months) and anejo (at least one year). A little known fact: rather than being a distinct spirit, tequila is actually a type of mezcal. 


This Scandinavian spirit, distilled from grain and potatoes and flavoured with herbs and spices, dates back to the 15th century. Legally, the main ingredient must be caraway or dill and it must contain at least 37.5% alcohol by volume. Distilled in a similar fashion to gin, it typically comes in a yellow/golden brown colour (Norwegian varieties) or is light yellow or even colourless (Swedish and Danish varieties). 


An Italian-produced spirit in the Amaro family, Averna is less well-known as its counterpart, Campari, but its distinctive orange flavour makes it a refreshing beverage when consumed either alone, or with cola or tonic water. The liqueur is made by soaking fruit rinds and herbs in a base liquor before caramel is added. The drink was invented by Salvatore Averna, after whom it is named. Averna was bequeathed the recipe for a fortifying elixir by Cistercian monks for his work within the community. He started producing the spirit for sale after it proved a hit among his friends and family.


Another obscure spirit from the Amaro category is Fernet. Renowned for its distinctive bitter, herbal taste, it’s a firm favourite among bartenders and is popular as a digestif. Perhaps it is best known in Argentina, to which it was brought during the mass wave of European immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Commonly enjoyed with cola, almost 3 million litres are consumed in Cordoba province annually, earning it the title of ‘World Fernet Capital’.