Bourdain & Zimmern local Asian Moonshine
This may belong on the Wine board or Not About Food, but I think posters here would be more familiar with the product I'm asking about.
For those of you who have partaken of such things............ I've wondered what some of the local Asian presumably rice-based hooch these guys wind up having to embibe might taste like. They all seem to be clear, distilled products, often shown in large jars often with various reptilian inhabitants visible.
My own experience with such things is limited to Maotai (which I've read is sorghum-based) that I've had in Taiwan many times. It's some of the strongest alocohol I've ever tried and it tastes more like what I'd imagine turpentine might taste like than any acoholic beverage I've experienced. When I see Bourdain and Zimmern doing shots of stuff that looks like that I just wonder what it's like.
We had Ruou - Vietnamese distilled spirits, several times in Vietnam.
In Hanoi it is made from Rice, and many times it does taste pretty harsh. We had a group of flavored samplers from Highway 4 in Hanoi and found it to be pretty heinous stuff, the ginseng, gecko, and seahorse were the worst. The plain Ruou here was an amber color, and really tasted like bad scotch.
The Ruou in Le Mat, the "Snake Village" was mixed. We got to sample the Snake Farm's managers private stock, which was smooth, and had a sweet finish. He even gave us a "bottle"(used Russian Vodka bottle) for later. This was of course, snake ruou.
The Ruou served at the snake restaurant wasn't nearly as good, it was pretty harsh, though better than the stuff we had at Highway 4. The black bee flavored Ruou had an interesting "after taste" that wasn't unpleasant.
The Ruou made by the Northern Hill tribes in Vietnam is made from corn. In villages like Bac Ha it is sold out of plastic Jerry Cans. We had a ton of it with the locals at Can Cau Market. It had a taste reminiscent of a mild gin. It wasn't unpleasant. It cost 8,000 VND, about 50 cents. You bring your used small plastic water bottle, and they'll fill it from a plastic jerry can.
In the village of Bac Ha everybody drinks the stuff. Our guide set a small cup on fire just to show us it was flammable. We had several bottles with dinner.
I've had Okinawan Shochu, it was the 190 proof stuff that my friend somehow managed to bring through customs. It was really strong....like a combination of acetone and turpentine. Egads.....
Mmmmm sugarcane liquors, I like these best judging by cachaca and rum so far. Not sure why. Maybe in phylum they mix with other tropical/sweet things well.
I have a barley shochu (Japanese alternative to shoju, maybe the popular varieties are a bit more refined in taste although I've had great shoju cocktails).
It reminds me of a clean-tasting unfiltered sake (although it is filtered). Sippable, not nearly as strong as vodkas etc. But I suspect the Eastern hooch Bourdain found was not the same thing at all.
Maotai is actually a town in China. Taiwan has its own sourgum based liquor called gao lian which is essentially a variation on a theme because it is made from the same plant but grown in a tropical area versus a non tropical area in China.
Americans know about Maotai because that is what Zhou En-Lai used to toast Richard Nixon during the historic visit in 1973.
The stuff is wicked and will kick you rear if you are not careful.
Maotai is considered a white liquor while the stuff they use to soak reptiles is low quality yellow liquor, mostly rice based liquor. In Fuzhou, where my parents came from, they make the hooch and then they take the left over grains and they use it to cook meats with. The stuff is out of the world. Hong tzou its called.
The distilled rice "wines" in Vietnam, Cambodia, Burma, and Laos are highly variable--in strength, harshness vs smoothness; but all have the distinctive flavor that rice provides. The palm sap and palm sugar wines, including coconut lambanoag in the Philippines range in flavor and strength--and in sweetness (not a good thing). The cane liquors are like canazos and "almost" rums in Latin America, range from rough to quite good, all with the distinctive taste of having come from cane. Commercial Korean shoju is smooth and tasty compared to many of the rustic rice, palm, and cane wines.
Throughout many years I've had to consume local moonshines with local people--about half the commercially produced "Mekong" type and its equivalents around SE Asia and about half made in local stills. Same elsewhere.