Drinking with Mythological Creatures
The world is a dangerous place full of fantastic, deadly creatures lurking in the shadows, waiting to eat your liver or drink your organs. This year, Boo-oozy Tales pays tribute to some of the most chilling creatures from international folklore and, of course, pairs them with a fitting libation.
Kumiho (Korea, China, Japan)
The kumiho, or nine-tailed fox, is one of the most famous spirits in Asia. She pops up in the myths of China (huli jing), Japan (kitsune), and the version haunting us here, Korea’s kumiho. A kuhimo is “born” when a fox lives for a thousand years, accumulating incredible supernatural power along the way. When stories of the nine-tailed fox first emerged in China, the creature could be good or evil, harmful or beneficial. But at some point in the Korean myths, the moral grey areas shrunk and the fox became a malevolent ghost that was fond of transforming into a beautiful woman, seducing hapless young men, and eating their hearts, livers, and assorted bits of flesh. There have been so many nine-tailed fox spirit stories written by so many people for so long that a dizzying number of powers and traits have been attributed to them. What sets the kumiho apart from her Chinese and Japanese sisters is the yeowoo guseul, a magic bead that gives the spirit its power, and if stolen, and swallowed by a human, imbues that human with great knowledge.
Korea takes drinking, well, not exactly seriously, but… let’s just remind people than in Parts Unknown, Korean drinking culture defeated Anthony Bourdain. Fueled by beer, soju, novel cocktails, and a lack of restraint, drinking in Korea can sometimes be more about quantity than quality or sophistication. While a soju or soju cocktail is the obvious way to go, there’s something to be said for bokbunja, a sweet Korean wine made from black raspberries. Bohae is one of the most common brands in the US, and drinking it on its own they way you would enjoy any good dessert wine is a fine way to spend an evening. You can also make a good cocktail with it, substituting bokbunja in place of sherry. Going back further still, because this is all about folklore, there is makgeolli, a low-ABV raw rice wine touted as the oldest booze in Korea.
Or, you can just have all three, mixed into one cocktail as beautiful and intoxicating as a komiho: the Rose of Sharon, created at New York’s Jungsik:
- 2 oz makgeolli
- 1.5 oz soju
- .25 oz sour mix
- .75 oz bokbunja
Combine all ingredients except bokbunja and stir with ice. Strain into a Martini glass. Pour in bokbunja last and stir after it’s all settled to the bottom.
Originating in Ghana, tales of Anansi have spread throughout West Africa and the Caribbean. Despite differences in form — anansi usually takes the form of a giant spider — something like anansi exists in nearly every folkloric tradition. He is the god of knowledge and stories, but the knowledge he has to impart is often delivered in somewhat wry fashion, which is why he also known as a trickster god.
The horror that brought Anansi to the Caribbean — the slave trade — also made him a champion of slave rebellions and resistance.Anansi used his intelligence and skills as a storyteller and trickster to turn the tables on plantation owners and return some measure of power to oppressed people. From native American Coyote to China’s Monkey King, and even the European tradition of the court jester, it seems the only way any god or monster has to teach humans a lesson is to trick them into wisdom.
Akpeteshie, distilled from palm wine or sugarcane juice, is to Ghana what Țuică is to Romania and moonshine used to be to the United States. Homebrewed, unregulated, not always safe, but something everyone knows and celebrates with. During British colonial rule, it was outlawed entirely, which means akpeteshie, like Anansi, took on an added air of resistance to oppression. Over time, like moonshine, akpeteshie became as disreputable as it was popular. The upper-class looked down on it. But like many folk concoctions, enterprising drinkers looking to reconnect with the past have more recently embraced it.
Our trip through the myths of the world now takes a trip to Ghana to imbibe. No really, maybe you should. At the forefront of promoting akpeteshie is The Republic, a lively bar and performance space opened in 2013 in Accra by brothers Raja and Kofi Owusu-Ansah. After ditching their careers as a multimedia developer and a financial consultant and converting their business office into the bar, the brothers decided to champion Ghana’s spirit of resistance. Still going strong, The Republic features akpeteshie shots and flights and uses it as the base in a number of cocktails.
Aswangs are actually a whole category of monster that includes creatures similar to vampires, witches, and werewolves. But it’s the “viscera sucker” that takes the prize for the creepiest and most unique. By day it assumes the form of a beautiful woman. At night, it grows wings and uses its long tongue to suck the internal organs out of its victims. It finds unborn babies particularly tasty. But we don’t, so perhaps something a little tastier is in order.
Lambanog is the Filipino folk brew, a coconut wine or arak. But as with many of the old concoctions, to get it you’ll have to head for the Philippines (unless you are already there), where your risk of running into an aswang increases. However, as recounted in Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari, a history of the early days of tiki bars, the trend would have probably never happened if not for ex-pat Filipino bartenders who sought work in upstart bars like Don the Beachcombers and brought with them a knowledge of how to effectively mix alcohol and exotic fruit juices. What’s more, gin is wildly popular in the Philippines. So here’s the Saturn, a gin tiki cocktail guaranteed to either keep the aswangs away or convince you you’re seeing even more of them.
- 2 oz gin
- 1 oz lemon juice
- .75 o. passionfruit syrup
- .25 oz Falernum
- .25 oz orgeat syrup
Add all of the ingredients to a blender with crushed ice, and blend until smooth. Pour unstrained into a tiki mug or highball glass. Garnish with an umbrella and an orange peel.
Ciguapa (Dominican Republic)
In the mountain forests of the Dominican Republic, there prowls — or so the locals say — a beautiful woman with nary a stitch on. After all, it’s the Caribbean, and the temperatures can soar down there. But should one perchance have a glance at her feet and notice that they are actually backwards. Well then, friend, that’s not just a naked woman wandering around the jungle — that’s a Ciguapa. The fact that her skin is blue might have also given away the game, but you never know these days. Not unlike sirens, ciguapa have been known to lure poor saps deep into the jungle, where naught but doom awaits.
Like most of the countries we’ve visited on this tour, DR has a homebrew to be proud of: mamajuana — made by combining rum, red wine, and honey and letting it soak in a bottle with tree bark and herbs — sort of like a fortified wine meets amaro. In the classic tradition of DIY booze concoctions, mamajuana has been claimed to cure a variety of ailments, not the least of them being impotence or a general lack of sex drive. If you don’t have it on hand, might we recommend paying tribute to the blue skinned beauty that lured you to your doom by shaking up a variation on the Old Fashioned Voo Doo, as recounted in Beachbum Berry’s Potions of the Caribbean. The 1956 recipe calls for Puerto Rican rum, but for la ciguapa, substitute a Dominican rum.
- 1 oz apricot brandy
- 1 oz Ron Barceló Añejo
- 2 oz guanabana juice (a soursop juice that can be found in Asian and Latino grocery stores)
- 1 oz whole milk
Add all ingredients to a shaker with ice and shake. Pour unstrained into an Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with grated coconut and nutmeg.
Yacumama, the mother of water, calls the waters of the Peruvian Amazon her home. As legend has it, Yacumama is also the mother of all creatures that live in the water, and should a human stroll too close to her, she will suck them dry. In the old days, people would blow a conch shell whenever they were near the river, enticing Yacumama to reveal herself and see what all the noise is about. Thus can a clever local avoid falling afoul of the giant serpent who guards the river and all that call its depths home.
When in Peru, having successfully tooted your conch shell to safety, it’s best to celebrate with the country’s most famous spirit: pisco, a brandy made by distilling fermented grape juice. And if you are going to steady your nerves with a pisco cocktail after narrowly escaping the grip of Yacumama, keep it traditional and order yourself a pisco sour.
- 2 oz pisco
- 1 oz fresh lime juice
- .5 oz simple syrup
- 1 egg white
- Angostura bitters
Add all ingredients into a shaker with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a chilled rocks glass over fresh ice. Garnish with 3 drops of Angostura bitters.
From all of us, have a happy and safe Halloween, and don’t do anything to upset the spirits!