I made some vin de noix earlier this year. You have to take the walnuts when they're plump but still green, in late June or early July - apparently the traditional approach is between St John's Day (midsummer Eve) and Bastille Day (July 14). Pick 24 of the walnuts, chop them in quarters and put them in a big bucket with a litre of brandy, five litres of red wine, a quartered orange or two and a huge vanilla pod, and then add a kilo of sugar. And wait. And wait. And strain it after about a month, and then wait some more.
Anyway, this month I took a bottle along to Norwich Beer Festival, where this was my fourth year on the cellar team. And we opened it for a taste.
Highly successful! The vanilla and orange come through but there's a wonderful chocolate flavour, too. It's sweet, but not sickly, and it's definitely alcoholic.
I got introduced to this lovely home-made liqueur when I was walking the pilgrim route to Santiago, and stayed in a hotel in Conques. I've never seen it for sale - you have to make it yourself. It seems to fill the same space in the French kitchen that sloe gin does in England or rumtopf in Germany. But I have to say, I like it more.
Local drinks are always worth checking out. Apricot brandy in Hungary; flavoured vodkas in Poland (I'm afraid I'm a girly here - I prefer cherry and honey to the grass flavoured one, which tastes like silage); and local ciders, which never seem to travel far from their orchards, in Normandy, Brittany, and northern Spain.
Just try not to get drawn into a drinking competition. I've seen the aftermath of some - and it's not pretty.