Care For A Glass Of Fizzy Mare's Milk?

I'm a big fan of fermented beverages. Whether it's beer, cider, wine, or whiskey, the fruits of bacterial transformation have been responsible for some of the happiest moments of my life. Except for one time. The culprit was kumis.

Haven't heard of kumis? Count yourself lucky. And scan these following words with caution. Kumis is a fermented dairy product that's traditionally made from mare's milk. Squeeze out a few drops from My Friend Flicka and let the milk ferment. Lactobacillus bacteria acidify the liquid, turning it lightly fizzy and, because mare's milk contains more fermentable sugars than cow's milk, slightly alcoholic. Before you start lining up shots, I suggest you read ahead.

A few summers back, I found myself in the dusty wilds of Kazakhstan. I was participating in the Mongol Rally, a nonsensical race in which amateur drivers pilot broken-down jalopies from London to Mongolia, zigzagging through Europe, Russia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and other hard-to-spell countries. My steed (co-piloted by pals Mims and Andrew) was a rusty Subaru Justy, a car held together by plastic zip ties and dwindling faith. One hot afternoon, about halfway into our trip, our car arrived in Atyrau, a town in western Kazakhstan famed for oil and fishing.

Famished, we found an air-conditioned supermarket and wandered the cool, gleaming aisles. Two foodstuffs caught our eye: spicy horse jerky and kumis. We bought both. Once you got past the image of the horse on the bag, the jerky was pretty swell. It was tough and chewy like any ol' Slim Jim, but the meat was plenty salty and packed spicy heat—a great mate for beer. I couldn't say the same for kumis.

I cracked the white bottle, letting a low hiss of carbonation escape. Then I took a taste. It was fizzy and creamy, like buttermilk mixed with lemonade and low-budget champagne. A sharp, pungent sourness lingered in my mouth like the world's worst houseguest, leaving me rushing for my water bottle. I passed the milk to Mims. "It's like champagne mixed with sour cream," Mims said, wincing. Finally, it was Andrew's turn. He took a short, milky swallow. His mouth opened in wide, wordless terror. "Never, never again," he choked out, consigning the kumis to a trashcan. Next time you're in Central Asia, it's advice I recommend you heed.