7 of The World's Most Interesting Drinking Customs

By Joshua Malin |
FWX HEY WINE GUYS STOP CORK BLOCKING

© DIZ Muenchen GmbH, Sueddeutsche Zeitung Photo / Alamy

Drinking alcohol is deeply intertwined with the development of human culture, so it’s no surprise that interesting, varied drinking customs have developed wherever alcohol is consumed — which would be everywhere on Earth. From religious ceremonies to family gatherings, whenever alcohol is consumed, you can expect that customs will develop. From the dark sides of the basic toast to one’s health to a town-sized food wine fight, explore some of the world’s most interesting drinking customs.

The Many Toasts That Accompany A Georgian Meal – Georgia

Perhaps no people take the toasting of wine more seriously than the Georgians. The practice of a ‘Tamada’ (toastmaster) leading the guests at a ‘supra,’ a dinner party (or larger feast), through a dozen or more toasts has ancient origins that some believe go all the way back to the late Bronze Age. These toasts will be made to friends, family — dead and living — and whatever else is on the toastmaster’s mind. As you can imagine, they can get quite personal. Wine is the beverage of choice for these toasts, though brandy and vodka are acceptable as well. Beer on the other hand is out of the question — unless you’re wishing bad luck upon the person to whom you are toasting.

Toast Carefully Or Expect 7 Years Of Bad Sex – Spain, France, Germany

Toasting has deep roots in Western culture, with some anthropologists suggesting that it goes back to  ancient religious rites. While a toast is generally positive — good health and good luck are common — the act carries certain negative superstitions in three European countries. Making eye contact while toasting is considered polite in many countries and the penalties for deviating from this practice can be severe. A commonly held superstition in France and Germany is that you’ll suffer through seven years of ‘bad sex’ if you break eye contact during a toast. Many in Spain believe that the same curse will befall those who toast with glasses of water.

The U.S. Navy’s Mess Night Manual offers up another reason why one should never toast with glasses of water: “Toasts are usually made with champagne, but other wines are also suitable. At a Mess Night, port wine is used for all toasts. Although civilian practice is more permissive, in the military, toasts are never drunk with liqueurs, soft drinks, or water. Tradition is that the object of a toast with water will die by drowning.”
The Little Head Butt – The Netherlands

Kopstootje translates from Dutch to “little head butt,” which in the case of this drinking custom refers to the way you knock back a shot of Genever, the Dutch liquor which also evolved into Gin. The traditional way to serve Genever is in a tulip shaped glass, filled all the way to the brim. The only way you can drink the liquor without spilling any of it is to lean over the table and slurp directly from the glass. When you follow said slurping with a chaser of beer, the drink is referred to as a kopstootje.

Drinking Out Of The Bride’s Stolen Shoe – Ukraine

Stealing one of the bride’s shoes is something you might experience at a traditional Ukrainian wedding. If a guest manages to nab one of the bride’s shoes (while she’s seated!), the shoe thief wins the right to make some lighthearted demands upon members of the wedding party and close friends. Chief among them is drinking from the shoe. Now, before you cringe in disgust, let’s be clear that no one literally (hopefully?) drinks out of the shoe itself. Instead a glass will be strapped to the shoe, allowing guests to imbibe from the bride’s shoe, without actually drinking out of a shoe.

The Haro Wine Festival / La Batalla de Vino de Haro – Spain

Every year, on June 29th, Haro, a Spanish town which is home to many famous Rioja wine producers, descends into an all-out wine war. Why June 29th? That’s the day the Catholic Church marks as the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. While the day has religious significance throughout the Catholic world, the way the residents of Haro, Spain celebrate the occasion is unique.

Imagine what would happen if you handed a few thousand schoolchildren water guns and said have at it. Now imagine those children are adults, and instead of water, they’re armed with wine. Here’s how one travel agency describes the debauchery:

The wine fight starts the night before, on the evening of the 28th. This is the biggest party night that Haro sees, and includes the whole town in the streets, from children to grandparents, partying the night away in the town’s streets, bars and town squares.

After a few hours sleep, or none at all (the street parties literally go all night), the town heads up a mountain 5kms away to cover each other in wine, dance to wine soaked bands and to kiss wine covered mouths. There are water trucks filled with wine distributing wine to water pistols, back mounted spraying devices, into buckets which are indiscriminately poured on heads and into anything else that can hold, and then dispel, vino tinto.

After a few hours the fight descends the mountain and moves into the town, where the only battling is done with traditional dances and general revelry – the kind that can only be induced by hours of red wine incidentally pouring down one’s throat.

Respect Your Drinking Elders – Korea

Korea’s drinking etiquette rules are complex, and like many older traditions, practiced to varying degrees by younger folks. Most of the rules revolve around paying elders their due respect. For example, if an elderly person offers you a drink, it is respectful to stand up (or at least rise to a kneeling position) and take the glass with both hands. Traditionally you should turn away from them when you consume the drink, though again, this is increasingly infrequent. In general, you should not pour your own drink – a custom common in many countries, Eastern and Western – and when refilling someone else’s glass make sure they have completely finished the previous round.

Sipping Wine On The Rocks At Denny’s – Japan

Dropping ice cubes into a glass of wine throughout most of the world will typically elicit reactions ranging from surprise to shocked indignation (from our snobbier friends). We strongly believe you should drink wine however you like it, though we can’t say we’re big fans of ‘wine on the rocks’ ourselves. Perhaps things would be different if we lived in Japan, where a new wine drinking custom has taken off. About a year ago, the USDA’s Foriegn Agricultural Service — they’re a sort of government-run PR agency for America’s farmers — reported on the prospects for American wine in Japan. Tucked inside an otherwise boring report was the discovery of a new trend:

“Wine on the Rocks” is becoming an increasingly popular trend among consumers in Japan because of simplicity and brisk taste. Suntory Holdings Limited is one of the major Japanese Brewing companies that is pushing this new trend as “the new way to drink wine”, with instructions on how to make the cold wine beverage posted on its website’s official blog. Denny’s Japan has also followed suit as it is currently offering both red and white wine on the rocks on their drink menus across Japan.

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