A person born in the Year of the Snake is considered wise and cunning, cool, calm and collected and strikingly beautiful. For those of you who were unlucky enough to be born in another year, don't panic, traditional Chinese medicine can help you get these qualities from, well, consuming a snake. (Boys, don't get too excited).
If you're queasy at the thought of eating the worm from the mezcal bottle, look away now. Welcome to the disturbing world of snake wine. The Chinese have been infusing whole venomous cobra snakes in alcohol since the Ming dynasty, for its supposed medical qualities. According to traditional Chinese medicine the snake is believed to cure a number of ailments, including hair loss, farsightedness and back pain, this is attributed to the essence of the snake's venom that dissolves into the liquor. We're happy to report that the snake venom is denatured by the ethanol and therefore won't kill you, just leave you with a 'biting' hangover the next morning. Just be sure that booze is strong now we would hate to lose you to a lack of ethanol and excess venom.
South East Asian snake wine comes in two varieties, in one style a venomous snake is inserted into a glass jar of rice wine and left to steep for a few months before being consumed in shots. The other, slightly more disturbing method is known as snake blood wine, where your friendly Vietnamese bartender will slice the snake's belly open and drain its blood straight into your mug of alcohol, cheers?
Not to be left out, the Japanese have their own version, called Habushu. A habu snake, a deadly Japanese viper, is inserted into a jar of awamori, a rice based, rum style spirit unique to Okinawa. In this case the snake is submerged into the liquid while still alive and drowns. Disturbingly, Habushu is a popular drink amongst American soldiers stationed in Japan. We're assuming it's for the drink's alleged aphrodisiac qualities, or maybe they just love the taste, said to be similar to Campari.
Sadly, the popularity of snake spirits is not a good thing. Currently only available in the UK via illegal websites, buying a bottle contributes to a network of snake poachers, criminals really and encourages an act that sees endangered snakes disappear from South East Asia's forests. Be careful now y'all.