For most people, beer, liquor and wine is only thought of from a geographical standpoint based on how far the bottle/glass is away from one's lips. However, the reason we prefer certain spirits or brands of alcohol is a direct reflection of where they are produced - and the various regional peccadillos that occur in nature - in addition to the artisans themselves who are tasked with getting the world inebriated.
While Kentucky's famed "Bourbon Trail" comes to mind - along with other notable alcohol producing regions like Guadelejara and Jalisco for tequila and Burgundy for pinot noir and chardonnay - there are a several alcohol-producing countries that are surprising for a number of reasons.
The next time you are belly up to the bar and looking for a little chatter that fits the ambiance of the moment, consider these five countries.
The spirit: Whisky
Just five years ago, no one would have ever considered Japan to be an industry leader in whisky production thanks to centuries of entrenchment in the craft by other prominent countries like Scotland, Ireland and the United States.
However, the rest of the world's whisky producers were put on notice when the 2015 edition of Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible named Suntory’s Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 the best whisky in the world — the first time the honor had gone to a whisky from Japan.
Distilled twice using pot stills - indicative of Scottish traditions - Suntory has been cranking out whisky since 1923 despite what seems like newfound success in the arena including notable awards like three-peating at 20th International Spirits Challenge (ISC) for the world whisky category.
Suntory credits much of their "magic" to attributes like the Yamazaki region which was formerly referred to as "Minaseno" - where one of the purest waters of Japan originates - which offers a rare softness and purity, only made possible by filtration of rain and snow through thousand-year-old granite rocks. Additionally, fluctuation throughout Japan’s four seasons allows changes in temperature that greatly affects cask “breathing."
For those wanting to indulge in some of the best Japanese whisky's, look no further than Yamazaki 18-year, Yoichi 12-year, Taketsuru 17-year, Karuizawa 15-year and Elgashima White Oak Akashi.
The spirit: Wine
Alcohol consumption in Islam-dominated countries is considered, "ummul-khabaith" - the root of all evil.
Despite Morocco boasting a population comprised of 98 percent Muslims, the North African country has become the second largest producer of wine in all Muslim countries thanks to foreign interests and investments which have utilized around 12,000 hectares (30,000 acres) of vineyards to produce 30 million bottles of wine a year, according to unofficial figures from industry sources.
Due to the inviting, Mediterranean climate and surrounding Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea and Atlas Mountains, there are often calming breezes which produces a similar environment for wine growth as a place like Santa Barabara, California. In turn, regions like Boulaouane, Benslimane, Berkane and Guerrouane are garnering worldwide acclaim for their production of red wine classics like Grenache, Syrah, Cabernet-Sauvignon and Merlot.
Even though Islam has a strict doctrine against drinking alcohol, The Telegraph noted that 85 percent of all wine created in Morocco was being indulged on domestically.
In 2014, Wine & Spirits Magazine's June edition featured Ouled Thaleb, a vineyard located on the high Ben Slimane plateau, where elevation and coastal breezes create a cool microclimate - as one of its "Value Brands of the Year" for its catalog of Moroccan Red Blend, Moroccan White Blend, Moroccan Rosé, Médaillon, Médaillon Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Un-Oaked Chardonnay.
The spirit: Trappist beer
Although trappist beers are no secret - even to the average beer drinker - the history behind what goes into making the potent libations is one that needs to be understood on a broader scale.
Even with the rise in popularity of craft beers around the world, there are only 11 monasteries - six in Belgium, two in the Netherlands, and one each in Italy, Austria and the United States - who are churning out what is authentic Trappist fare thanks to the devotion of monks who have added beer making to their devotion to the Rule of St. Benedict.
Unlike the upswing in alcohol production in Morocco that directly pits culture versus religion, the Trappist monks are continuing a rite in Belgium that is based on hundreds of years of a proud Benedictine tradition.
"One of the ways that monks have traditionally [made money], and our community has done it, is through beer brewing," Father Wulstan Peterburs, procurator of Ampleforth Abbey, told the BBC.
Chimay and Westmalle in Belgium, and Koningshaven in the Netherlands are quite sizable Trappist beer operations. However, lessor known entities like Mont des Cats in Northern France and the abbey of Maria Toevlucht in the Netherlands have started to garner additional attention in the world of craft beers.
In the mid 2000s, lives for many of the monks at The Abbey of Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren, Belgium, changed when the beer-information website RateBeer.com named their dark, quadrupel-style 12 the best beer in the world.
"One day, 20 people were there drinking the beer," RateBeer executive director Joe Tucker told Business Insider. "The next, there's a huge line of cars waiting to buy it."
Of the 11 Trappist monasteries that produce beer, Westvleteren produces the least: just under 4,000 barrels, or 126,000 gallons, a year. The largest, Chimay, produces about 3.2 million gallons a year.
Even with all the acclaim, the monks at Westvleteren have shied away from the attention, and refused to up their output of beyond 4,750 hectolitres a year despite the rules of supply and demand.
The spirit: Moonshine
When one hears the word "moonshine," a person normally pictures a scene out in the dense brush in Appalachia where bearded men use a combination of country ingenuity, corn mash, and copper stills to make liquor with names like "white lightnin'" in an attempt to forgo paying tax on liquor as well as crafting homemade hooch with a little extra punch to it.
From an international standpoint, it resembles a drink similar to Puerto Rico's "pitorro," Colombia's "aguardiente," and Italy's "grappa."
The local drink of choice in Albania is called "Rakia" which is a fruit brandy with origins in the Balkans and a direct reflection of other similar drinks in countries like Greece, Bulgaria, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, Romania, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia.
Despite slight variances based on what country you visit, the Albanian version is most commonly made out of grapes or plums (and sometimes out of mulberry or walnuts) in colder climate areas.
Traced back to 14th century Bulgaria, the drink is considered to be a sign of hospitality and offered "neat." It can also be served “cooked,” which means that the libation will be sweetened with honey, sugar and spices, and then heated it in a kettle.
It was perhaps a 2014 arrest in Albania that shined a light on the age-old practice of making rakia.
According to Reuters, Albania's prime minister, Edi Rama, fired the country's food safety chief, Aleksander Kalemaj, after it emerged that he had been arrested in 2012 for selling illicit home-made alcohol and possessing more than 500 liters brandy/rakia.
While making moonshine in this country is strictly illegal, Esquire even posted a recipe for Rakia for those wanting to add a taste of an outlaw's lifestyle to their drinker's palette.
The spirit: Gin
Ugandan gin takes on a variety of names depending on the region of the country, but is most commonly referred to as "Waragi" throughout - in addition to being known as "Kasese" in the west and "Lira Lira" in the north - and is viewed as a health epidemic that some observers estimate may be worse than HIV and malaria based on the economic and social costs in the country.
According to the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS), unregulated waragi accounts for nearly 80% of the liquor produced.
Often made from bananas or cassava, millet or sugarcane - which can contain as much as 40 percent pure ethanol, as well as other unidentified impurities - a single shot of the potent spirit only costs 25 cents, or one-sixth the cost of the leading regulated brand which makes it something that is often homemade and unregulated thanks to lacks penalties for the moonshine practice.
"Fighting against alcohol is to fight against a lot of households and their livelihood," UNBS press officer Moses Sebunya says.
Waragi's dangers were better understood by the entire world after 80 people died in 2010 after ingesting methanol-laced gin during a three-week period in the Southwestern Kabale district.