Sexually transmitted infections, an on the spot fine from a Venice Vaporetto inspector, the general disdain of local inhabitants—the British abroad are collectors. Thankfully rather than, say, Greece’s national treasures or the Benin Bronzes most travellers from the UK nowadays limit their natural acquisitiveness to cheap cigarettes and bottles of the native booze.
It’s one of the clichés of travelling, sipping on an exotic local drink while you sit outside soaking up the Vitamin D and noticing how unusually happy with life people appear in other countries. The cold drink gently slides down your throat numbing you as you pretend the remainder of your year isn’t abject misery filled with torturuous spreadsheets devised by psychopaths.
Sweet alcohol numbs the pain of the office drone life. Somewhere, though, in the back of your mind you’re aware you’ve gone deeply into debt trying to get enough the requisite amount of sunlight to prevent rickets.
These drinks can never taste the same made back in your mould ridden flat. Happiness is a natural flavour enhancer. Pelinkovac, Pastis, Raki, Campari—names that flow from the tongue as pleasantly as they do from the bottle.
Now they sit gathering dust in your drinks cabinet—old forgotten toys that you’ll use to get pissed only in an absolute emergency.
In my experience the titan that towers over all of the other holiday impulse purchases is Becherovka, a fine blend of mystery herbs from the Czech Republic. No trip to Prague would be complete without enjoying its strongly spiced charms and imagining golems running amok amongst picturesque streets.
I primarily enjoy the drink as a substitute Saturday cocktail—perfect for when the gin is all used up on Friday after you went in heavier than you expected and subsequently couldn’t face leaving the flat because you weren’t completely sure you were still alive.
Becherovka tastes like a Christmas candle that has been thoroughly soaked in antifreeze. It smells like the breath of an alcoholic ginger bread man. This may sound horrible but when mixed with ice, tonic water, and a slice of lime (a Beton) it’s surprisingly refreshing.
Much like Colonel Sanders chicken the recipe is a closely guarded secret blend of herbs and spices. Also like Colonel Sanders chicken when consumed it can have a highly unusual effect on the human body.
‘Richard’, a friend I introduced it to, was forced to take several days off work after recreationally ingesting it and having a physical reaction not dissimilar to a high dose of amphetamines. This was not the inexperience of an amateur drinker, or the hypochondria of someone unused to a severe hangover, but rather something in the herbs that sent his heart racing.
Clearly briefed by an NHS pamphlet on the subject Richard’s GP gently questioned him about whether or not struggling with a dependency on chemsex. Such was the profound effect upon his brain and body.
Brutal, but not uncommon. Enjoyed by millions of Czechs, who no doubt find it an innocuous enough beverage, Becherovka has done quite the number on more than a few of my friends.
Rather than poison my friends all I had wanted was to organically evangelise for a spirit distilled from unknown, potentially psychotropic, herbs. To share the love and perhaps turn a few people on to a strangely spiced drink criminally unknown in England. A country that seems to have allowed it’s own herbal liquors, such as the medicinally flavoured Lovage, to lapse into undeserved obscurity.
No doubt this in part comes down to branding. When we step foot in a city for the first time we quickly absorb the language of the food packaging and advertising that adorn the streets, screens, and walls. Our eyes seek out these novelties, perhaps preferring them to the ubiquity of Coca Cola and McDonalds. In Bangkok the drinker’s palette might be made up of the red and gold of a Mekhong whiskey label and the bright white of Chang Beer’s twin elephants. Prague has Becherovka and it’s bold blue and yellow brand waiting to sneak into your subconscious as you stand aboard the metro trying not to get caught in unforgiving automatic doors.
Holidays are rarely ever a complete escape. Although some rare souls turn their trip into an emigration most are like inmates on day release, destined to come back to the cells of our offices via the prison ships of EasyJet. We wrap the spirit of our holiday in a t-shirt and stow it in our suitcase, hoping it doesn’t break leaving our clothes sticky and smelling of cinnamon.
The bottle comes out once, perhaps the second night back, to toast the trip and lament the return to normality. Maybe it’s the different water in the ice, maybe the brand of tonic, but it’s somehow not the same. So, into the cabinet it goes —only to return from the past in your time of direst need, like King Arthur or Take That.