When it comes to alcohol, sometimes you want a big bang for your buck. And the best way to ensure that is with an booze that is mighty strong. In this list, we’ll travel the world bringing back samples of some of the most insanely high-proof alcohols in existence.
10. China: Baiju
Concern for public health is pretty low on China’s to-do list, so it’s not surprising that one of the country’s most popular alcohols also weighs in at a staggering 110 proof. Baiju, which translates as “white alcohol,” is distilled from sorghum and other grains and typically served room-temperature in small cups (ie shot glasses).
Right out the box, this stuff is tough to enjoy. When you open the bottle, the distinctive smell hits you right away. It smells like a subway dweller’s vomit. Taking the shot, you don’t actually taste that much going down. The aftertaste, though, is brutal. Have you ever thrown up the morning after a bender? It’s that flavor. Not good.
9. Czech Republic: Absinthe
One of the most legendary liquors of all time has some serious havoc-raising potential. Absinthe, a spirit distilled from botanicals, was banned in multiple countries for decades but has recently started to make a comeback. What makes absinthe so unusually potent is the presence of thujone, a chemical that comes from the wormwood used in distillation. In concert with alcohol, thujone blocks GABA receptors in the brain, making you more vulnerable to hallucinations and tricks of perception.
Absinthe is typically associated with France, but the most brutal bottle of it out there actually hails from Romania. Absinthe 35 is a non-traditional Czech absinthe (missing the trademark green color) that has the maximum amount of thujone allowed by law (along with 70% alcohol). The stuff gives you a brutal head rush and gets you knockered right away, but it’s a remarkably clear and lucid drunk. Keep in mind you do have to do the whole “dripping it through a sugar cube over ice” nonsense, which is the worst thing about absinthe.
8. Mexico: Raicilla
We’ve all been victim to the debilitating power of tequila, but did you know that the root of the mezcal plant is actually used to make an even more potent Mexican liquor? Raicilla has traditionally been made in the state of Jalisco by bootleggers in crude, hand-made stills. A mash of the plant’s root is fermented and distilled to create a clear spirit that’s claimed to have tons of side effects – most notably it makes women horny and men impotent. Nice! Because it’s home-brewed, the proof can vary between 85 and 150 proof, but most people test it by pouring a little bit in a saucer and holding a lit flame into the vapors – if they burn, it’s good.
Raicilla has a clean nose and a pleasant taste. Locals warn you not to drink more than five shots if you don’t want explosive diarrhea, but this is Mexico so you take your chances on that anyways. It’s pretty strong straight, but special bulbous-bottomed glasses somehow cut the impact a little bit. A little bit of lime also helps. In general this is pretty good stuff.
7. Grenada: River Antoine Royal Grenadin Rum
We like to think that Bacardi 151 is the ne plus ultra of powerful rums, but the Royal Grenadin made by Grenada’s River Antoine Rum gives it a run for the money. This is an incredible distillery with real heritage, so it’s not surprising that they’ve mastered the art of making rum. Every bottle is handmade with purely local ingredients and don’t add any yeasts to spark fermentation, instead letting natural bacteria do the work.
The result is a 155 proof rum that tastes… well, it tastes kind of awful, actually. The nose and taste bring nothing more than lighter fluid to mind. It’s fine as a mixer for strong-flavored juices, but you’re not going to want to be downing shots of this to impress girls, unless they love Satan.
6. South Africa: Mampoer
Every country has its own take on moonshine, but leave it to South Africa to field one of the most potent. Mampoer is a strong alcohol made from fermented fruit, unsweetened and distilled until it’s absolutely clear. The most famous brand is Hakkiesdrad, which communicates the potency of the spirit by wrapping every sold bottle in barbed wire to discourage casual drinking. That’s only 100 proof, but other regional mampoers can get up to 160 proof.
Mampoer is potent and a little sweet, with some fruit notes coming from the source material. It hits hard, though, and can leave you with a brain-splitting hangover. South Africans also play a bar game called bokdrol spoeg which involves taking small pellets of poop from the wild deer known as the kudu, soaking them in mampoer and spitting them for distance. I don’t think I’ve ever been drunk enough to put deer turds in my mouth.
5. Austria: Stroh 80 Rum
You wouldn’t expect one of the world’s strongest rums to hail from Austria, but the world of booze is full of surprises. Stroh 80 Rum is a traditional Austrian dark rum that clocks in at 80% alcohol (ie 160 proof) and manages to keep a ton of dark, flavorful elements alive in that intense environment. They use it for baking in the home country as well as for drinking, which explains why the flavor profile is so notable.
It’s probably a good thing that they add as many flavorants as they do, because this thing is brutal. After it passes your lips, you’ll notice the savage assault of pure ethanol overwhelming just about everything else. Once it subsides, the myriad notes of black tea and spices linger for a bit, along with a weirdly smooth finish. Not one you could make a regular addition to your drinking life, though.
4. Ireland: Poitín
We usually think whiskey when we think of strong Irish drinks, but locals have something that makes that look like Capri Sun. Poitín (sometimes spelled poteen) is an Irish moonshine distilled in a small pot (hence the name) from barley, potatoes, whey or other grains. For decades it was illegal to commercially sell the stuff, as it goes up to 180 proof with little effort, but now there are several commercially-made poitíns on the market.
Knockeen Hills is the company that makes the strongest poitíns, and their 90% alcohol version is a monster. It’s not hard on the nose, with a strong citrus aroma and some fruity notes, but once it’s in your mouth you’ll feel the power. Get through the initial shock and it actually has a quite pleasant aftertaste, but you’re going to want to take this one with water or another mixer if you value your life.
3. Scotland: Bruichladdich X4 Perilous Scotch Whisky
Whisky is well-known for packing a serious kick, but no bottle out there has the sheer destructive power of Bruichladdich X4 Perilous Scotch Whisky. Distilled on the isle of Islay, this is a quadruple-distilled brew that tops out at an alcohol content of 92 percent (184 proof). Typical malt whiskys don’t go over 62%, so this is some serious stuff. The extra distillation means the alcohol can absorb more flavorants from the oak casks it’s aged in.
Because it’s so viscous, you don’t really get a big smack of ethanol when you swallow a shot, instead just enjoyable citrus and herb notes with a little creaminess. Once this hits your stomach, though, you’re in for some trouble. As with most high-potency whiskys, a little bit of water will help you immeasurably.
2. United States: Everclear
America: we do it, and we do it big. One of the highest-proof drinking alcohols that you can buy anywhere on Earth is Everclear, the 190-proof grain hooch made in the Midwest. The bottle has a huge warning that basically says “do not drink without mixing with something.” It’s colorless, odorless and brutal.
You don’t want to just drink Everclear. The instant it hits your mouth your eyes will start to water and your muscles will start to spasm. There’s no flavor to be detected, here, and you’ll most likely be too busy trying to clean your mouth out with water to detect any notable aftertaste. It will, however, smash your face into the pavement and leave you drooling.
1. Poland: Spirytus
One argument for high-powered liquors is that pure alcohol is actually better for you because it doesn’t have other chemicals in it. That’s why Polish fighter pilots turned to Spirytus during World War 2, apparently. This incredibly brutal concoction retails at 192 proof, or 96% pure alcohol (99% is as high as it can go before its hydroscopic status absorbs moisture from the air and dilutes itself).
Some states have decided to allow the importation of Spirytus from Poland. This stuff is no joke. Drinking a shot will make you feel like you got punched in the sternum. The manufacturers recommend you use it sparingly to give a little extra alcoholic boost to cocktails, but if you’re man enough to shoot it straight expect to not remain standing up for too much longer.To avoid a hangover, don’t mix with soda or anything sweet.
Firebreather image by Shutterstock
Raicilla image: Costa Legre
Poitín image: Knockeen Hills
Spirytus image: Club.pl
(Previously published on October 15, 2013.)