The hardest liquor around?

There are many, perhaps too many, brands and types and varieties of hard liquor on the market. And if mere alcohol content is what enchants you and draws you to the bottle, then you could even turn to the various types of concentrated ethanol (96%, 99,5%, etc.) that are available, at the risk of burning your mouth and innards. But I doubt that anything can beat Ratzeputz, a North German firewater, when it comes to “maximum hard liquor experience”.

The stuff looks innocuous enough, light brownish in color and resembling brandy or cognac. My first contact with Ratzeputz was in Hamburg, a few years back. I was sitting at a café-table in the “Planten un Blomen” park (= “Plants and Flowers” in the Low German Plattdeutsch dialect), when I felt a case of sore throat welling up. So I turned to the waiter and asked for “a double of the strongest you have”, thinking that it might act as a disinfectant and avert further throat-trouble.

When the waiter returned with the glass of a liquid that looked like cognac, a nasty gleam in his eyes should have warned me. But as an unsuspecting foreigner, I just smiled and swallowed a hefty swig. It hit me like a fireball, laced with dynamite. Whether the taste should be described as blood-curling or hair-raising is a matter of, well, taste. Anyway, full recovery takes some five minutes.

It’s the remaining 42% that really gets you

The red, blue and gold label on the Ratzeputz bottle informs you in large type that Ratzeputz contains 58% alcohol. Knowing that ordinary hard liquor like gin, whisky and cognac contain around 40% alcohol, then such a figure is clearly impressive. But it is not the high ethanol content of Ratzeputz that gets you, not by itself. What knocks you completely down are the remaining 42%, which in the case of Ratzeputz consist of hot peppery spices (the taste that lingers longest is superhot ginger).

The stuff has been produced for over 100 years in the pictoresque medieval town of Celle, in the Lüneburger Heide region of North Germany, by the firm C.W. Baland & Langebartels. But don’t try to order Ratzeputz in a Bavarian bar – it’s virtually unknown in Southern Germany.

Always keep a bottle of Ratzeputz handy in your liquor-cabinet – it makes for an unrivalled practical joke to play on thirsty casual callers, helping you to reduce your unmanageably large circle of friends.

NOTE: The meaning of the word RATZEPUTZ, being expressed in North German dialect, is seemingly tough to fathom. According to Heisenberg, a trusted specialist on the ailments in South-Western Germany, the best explanation would be "Quick and clean". Representatives of the Ratzeputz firm in Celle (tel +49-5141 22440) vehemently disavow any semantic associations, claiming that the word Ratzeputz simply occured to the inventor as a funny-sounding and appropriate name for the product.

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