Liquid Souvenirs: 9 Bottles of Booze to Travel the World For

Local spirits have a way of distilling the essence of a place like no other keepsake.

Laura Sant / Courtesy Brennivin
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There are few mementos that, at the risk of using a pun, capture the spirit of a place better than, well, the spirit of a place. Whether it’s whisky from Scotland, amaro from Italy, or mezcal from Mexico, taking home a bottle that can only be found where it was made is like taking home a piece of that place, distilled (this time, pun intended).

“It’s the oldest picture of a place,” says Matt Piacentini of New York City cocktail bar the Up & Up. In addition to serving excellent cocktails that use a vast range of interesting booze, its also where Piacentini keeps much of his collection of rare and obscure spirits from around the world. (Most of it is not for sale, but he’s happy to share with anyone who curiously inquires about one of the unfamiliar bottles on the back bar.) “In some villages, the local spirit is the oldest thing there, older than the oldest buildings. It’s the deepest and most lasting strain of DNA of that place.”

Piacentini began his bottle-hunting days with an absinthe he found in Prague in 1999, back when the elixir was still illegal in the United States. Later, hanging out with a group of Scandinavians, he discovered aquavit. While visiting family in Italy, he found new appreciation for amaro, a category of bitter liqueurs taken before a meal (aperitivo) or at the end of it (digestivo). In Germany, he stumbled upon Bavarian Gebirgsenzian, or mountain gentian spirit, which was inevitable given that just about everyone he met drank the stuff. In each instance, he bought or was gifted a bottle to take home. His collection grew.

“In Italy, it’s all about old people’s houses,” laughs Piacentini, recalling the number of homemade digestivi he’s tasted over the years. Sometimes he goes in search of a specific spirit he’s read about. Oftentimes, he finds a good watering hole and strikes up a conversation with the bartender about what the locals like to drink. A trip will usually yield no more than two precisely selected bottles; he recommends moderation to avoid both breakage and unpleasant customs interactions.

“It really is the best souvenir for travelers,” says Piacentini. “It lasts forever; it’s evocative of the place you first tasted it. So you can keep going back to it again and again.”

Here, nine bottles you have to travel to taste, and bring home to share. Just source, uncap, and be transported.

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