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Your chance to grappa a local bargain; Raise AGlass.

Byline: Laurence McCoy

IT'S AN idyllic scene - you've just finished a fantastic meal of fish, fresh from the sea at the picturepostcard restaurant by the harbourside and the sun is setting slowly over the lapping Mediterranean sea.

The smiling waiter appears carrying a tray.

"Compliments of the owner," he says, and pours out two glasses of clear liquid. "That's a nice gesture," you say, as the first sip triggers a gag reflex and a coughing fit.

With the holiday season about to get into full swing, there'll be lots of opportunities to seek out weird and wonderful local 'specialities', some of which might be a real find and some of which may well be poisonous.

That bottle of raki, for instance, brought back in a pop bottle from Turkey 15 years ago, is still sitting in the cupboard, aging nicely from turps to nail varnish remover. Then, it was nicknamed 'wacky raki' for its tendency to turn anyone who drank it into a giggling fool.

There are, of course, lots of wonderful 'typical' drinks that are well worth bringing home. But you have to be careful.

Take grappa, the Italian version of the alcohol distilled from the leftover grapeskins that have gone into the season's wine. Some grappas fetch silly prices and are treated with extreme respect by aficionados. Some grappas should be used to clean the toilet.

Marc, the French version of the grapeskin byproduct, is jealously guarded by locals, probably because they are ashamed to be seen drinking industrial alcohol.

More widely accepted - and much less likely to spend the rest of its life in the back of the cupboard - is the Greek ouzo, the aniseed-flavoured clear alcohol that turns cloudy with the addition of water, much like that staple of French cafe society, pastis. Both are great with tons of ice on a hot day to revive those holiday memories.

And anyone planning a trip to Normandy should seize the chance to try some Calvados, the justly famous local apple brandy.
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Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Date:May 6, 2011
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