Anything home brew feels so precious to me, as it embodies the spirit of the maker. I’ve been fortunate enough to have friends who share their delicious labors of love with me. I’m lucky to enjoy the likes of IPA’s, Umeshu, Limoncello, and my favorite chia spiced kombucha. Knowing that each batch is never the same, I tend to take a smaller sip to savor the unique flavors. One particular moonshine I’ve been wanting to try is 'Lao-Lao' or Laotian rice whiskey. Let’s try it together one day!
To make Lao-Lao, Laotian villagers first have to ferment cooked sticky rice, a yeast ball, and water together. After a week or two, the mash is poured into an old oil drum to be distilled over firewood. The end product is a clear hooch that is generally sweet and yeasty with an alcohol percentage of 40-45%. Before setting our insides on fire, there are a few traditional Laotian ground rules to know. Firstly, no sipping allowed! Second, the first shot should always be tossed onto the ground as an offering to the local spirits. Third, two shots should be offered for good luck for special occasions. Lastly, there’s only one glass. So make sure to empty the glass by turning it upside down after a shot for the next drinker. Besides the original flavor, the villagers also use Lao-Lao to steep herbs and other ingredients like snakes, scorpions, and geckos for medicinal purposes. They believe it helps heal and strengthen the body.1
A less potent version of Lao-Lao is called ‘Lao-Hai’. It’s made by fermenting cooked sticky rice, the same yeast ball, and rice hull, inside an earthenware jar for a week. This sweet and fruity moonshine is especially enjoyed by the Khamu ethnic group. To me, the charm of Lao-Hai lies in the experience whereby the drinkers form an intimate group, making funny faces sucking on a long bamboo straw. Water is constantly added to refill and steep the alcohol out of the mash mixture. Though this traditional drink looks fun, I’ll happily give it a pass and stick to the distilled Lao-Lao. Call me a wet blanket as the long un-washable straw and un-boiled water alone makes my tummy rumble like a storm. 2
Since distillation is out of the question and rice hull is hard to get, I’d like to quench your curiosity with this same-same (but different) Thai rice whiskey called ‘Sato’.
- 1.5 kg Sticky Rice
- 1 ball of Dried Yeast (ground)
- 2 1/4 cup of Warm Water (boiled)
- A jar or container with a lid
- 1.Soak the sticky rice for 6-12 hours
- 2.Steam the rice until cooked, rinse it with cool water until the rice is cool and no longer sticky.
- 3.Put the sticky rice into the clean jar and add the ground yeast. Stir until mixed, and add 1 cup of water.
- 4.Store in a dark place at room temperature, keeping the lip loose to allow gas form the fermentation process to escape.
- 5.After 1 week, taste and it should be sweet. At this point, gently add remaining warm water to prevent the rice mixture from breaking.
- 6.Ferment for another 2 - 4weeks. The longer you leave it, the less sweet and more alcoholic it gets.
- 7.Filter it through a cheese cloth.
- 8.Last but not least, ring up some friends and order Thai takeout.
- Try it at your own risk!
Words by Buranee Soh, Cover photo by bukitgolfb301