There’s no better way to immerse yourself in a culture than to eat what the locals eat—and drink what the locals drink. Whether you’re hoping to strike up convivial conversations or simply sit back and sip on something delicious, sampling a local concoction allows you to stop and take a moment to quite literally drink in the customs and traditions that surround you. No matter where your travels take you, you can be sure that there’s a unique cocktail waiting for you at the other end. (We'll drink to that!).
When it comes to national cocktails, most Americans think margaritas and Mexico go hand in hand. But talk to any Mexican, and you’ll discover that tequila-based beverage of choice among locals is actually La Paloma, which gets its moniker from the Spanish word for “dove.” More sour than sweet, enthusiasts consider this fizzy grapefruit-flavored drink to be one of the smoothest sips out there.
Though it’s currently one of the trendiest tipples out there, with a photogenic sunset red hue that was practically made for Instagram, the Aperol Spritz is nothing new. Italians have been kicking back with this refreshing afternoon aperitif for generations. Aperol—an aromatic liqueur made with rhubarb, gentian, and cinconcha—pairs perfectly with chilled prosecco to make this classic cocktail.
The Mai Tai is the go-to beachside beverage to sip as the Hawaiian sun melts below the horizon. Legend has it that the first person to try this tropical concoction cried out, “Maita'i roa a'e!” — which means “out of this world” in Tahitian. Touristy neon-hued interpretations tend to be a tacky version of tiki, but the original one was designed to enhance the delicate flavors of good rum.
Walk down any street in balmy Barcelona, and you’ll pass sign after sign pointing thirsty tourists straight to the sangria. The pungent punch—which is made with either red or white wine, chopped fruit and fortified with spirits—has long been considered the ultimate refreshment after a day under the hot Spanish sun. If you want to enjoy sangria like the locals, sip it while savoring a platter of tapas before your evening meal. Fun fact: Sangria gets its name from the Spanish word for "bloodletting" due to its deep red hue.
The Pimms Cup has been a summertime staple in the British Isles since its invention in the early 1800s. Every year, about 320,000 cups of the classic cocktail are consumed at Wimbledon alone. A proper Pimm’s Cup is made with gin-based Pimm’s liqueur, British-style sparkling lemonade, and as many garnishes as you can squeeze into your glass—fresh strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, mint leaves, and sliced cucumbers and oranges.
Irish coffee is made from a heavenly combination of just four simple ingredients: hot coffee and Irish whiskey, sweetened with brown sugar and topped with cream. The recipe was invented in 1942 by Joe Sheridan, a chef in Foynes, County Limerick. Though Bailey’s Irish Cream is often used as a shortcut to making Irish coffee in place of the whiskey, sugar, and cream, nothing beats the real thing. You can find authentic Irish coffee on cocktail and dessert menus all over Ireland.
La Caipirinha—pronounced kai-pree-EEN-ya in Portuguese—is just as integral to Brazil's national identity as soccer, salsa dancing, and Carnivale. The cooling cocktail gets its name from a Brazilian slang word for a peasant from the rural countryside, which is where the drink found its humble origins. Caipirinha is made with fresh lime juice muddled with sugar and cachaça, a rum-like liqueur, and served on ice and with lime wedges for garnish.
Singapore’s signature pink drink was invented at the turn of the last century by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon at the Raffles Hotel bar in Singapore. Because it can pass as fruit punch, it was a favorite boozy beverage among ladies in an era when public alcohol consumption by upper-class women was frowned upon. But it wasn't just women who loved it—other notable fans of the cocktail included Rudyard Kipling and Joseph Conrad. The Singapore Sling has developed many variations over the past century, but the classic recipe calls for cherry and herbal liqueur, Grand Marnier, bitters, club soda, pineapple, and lime juice, with a cherry on top.
No Sunday brunch in France is complete without a chilled glass or two of Kir. The classic Kir is made of Crème de Cassis—a syrupy blackcurrant liqueur—blended with a splash of white wine, usually a dry chardonnay like chablis. For special occasions, the wine is swapped out in favor of champagne to create what’s called a Kir Royale. Other variations include Le Communard (which is made with red wine), Kir Impérial (made with raspberry liqueur and champagne), and Kir Pétillant (made with sparkling wine).
The modest Mojito was invented by Cubans in an attempt to make the cheap but strong rum more palatable, using readily-available ingredients—namely, sugarcane, fresh lime juice, and mint. The refreshing libation gained a solid following during the Prohibition era when thirsty Americans flocked to Havana, and it has been a staple on cocktail menus in both countries ever since.