It’s hard to be too mad at Jack Maxwell: Sure, he stole our dream job—hunting the globe for liquor on someone else’s dime—but at least he shares the wealth on his Travel Channel show, Booze Traveler. Here, he spills his favorite liquid encounters.
How’d you get started talking to people about beverages?
I grew up in Boston, and when I was a kid, I shined shoes at the Southie bars to make money. Once in a while, the guys would give me a little sip. I’d be down on bended knee shining shoes, and they’d be telling me stories like I was their best friend. People feel comfortable in bars whether they’re drinking or not; it’s the public living room.
You’ve explored other nations’ drinks, but how do you explain American bar culture to foreigners?
It is what America is: a melting pot and mash-up of other nations’ cultures. Rum helped the revolution, but that’s not ours. Beer, of course, is from the Germans. Whiskey fueled the Whiskey Rebellion! America is where it all comes together.
Did you have any memorable beers while filming?
Chicha in Peru. It’s corn beer that tastes like melted corn chips; it’s very nice. And in Belize, I had a chocolate stout that was wonderful. I met a guy who works with cocoa plants; the beans tasted like Jolly Ranchers when they came off the tree, but then he roasted them and they became like coffee beans. Add sugar, and it becomes chocolate. He made a stout with it that was homemade and wonderful.
You also drank beer made from saliva…
In Peru, an Amazon tribe welcomed me; the chief taught me to shoot poison darts, we ate piranha, then they served me spit beer that had already fermented. But it’s the women of the tribe who make it, so I also hung out with them, chewing up roots and spitting it out to make a new batch.
What did you drink in the Himalayas?
I admire Sherpas as much as I admire anyone on Earth: They go up and down Everest like a stair-stepper at the gym carrying supplies and luggage so someone else can say, “I climbed Mount Everest.” They drink tongba, which is like beer, but it’s hot and made with millet. They drink it up to 5,000 feet—after that, the altitude just feels like being drunk anyway—and they toast by clinking metal straws.
What’s the one weird drink you recommend traveling for?
If you go to Mongolia, you have to know a guy who knows a guy who will find you a nomad family. It took a few days of driving with no GPS in the middle of the Gobi Desert to find this family. They allowed me to milk their camels and turn it into fermented camel milk, which they make into camel’s milk vodka in a homemade still. You can’t just take a sip: You have to have three bowls of it, or you insult the culture.
Did you find any surefire hangover cures?
Most of them are soup, actually. In Belize, it’s cow hoof and oxtail soup. There’s tripe soup in Turkey with a bunch of garlic, hot sauce, vinegar. In Peru, it’s fish scrape—basically a ceviche with urchin and hot sauce in a cocktail glass. They swear by it, and it really works!