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Bourdain & Zimmern local Asian Moonshine

Midlife Jul 15, 2008 01:52 PM

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.

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  1. g
    gfr1111 RE: Midlife Jul 15, 2008 02:10 PM

    My limited experience with shoju (Korean sweet potato liquor) is that turpentine is not a bad description.

    2 Replies
    1. re: gfr1111
      bitsubeats RE: gfr1111 Jul 15, 2008 05:12 PM

      hahah my dad always described soju as tasting like "embalming fluid"

      despite the taste though it's not that high in alcohol

      1. re: gfr1111
        bkhuna RE: gfr1111 Jun 9, 2009 05:05 PM

        My Korean buddy use to mix his soju with tang. I kid you not. That's how I learned to drink it.

      2. k
        KirkK RE: Midlife Jul 16, 2008 12:12 PM

        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.....

        1. hewn RE: Midlife Jul 16, 2008 02:20 PM

          I've had Mekong whiskey and various sugarcane liquors in Thailand and they were fine. Clean, smooth, tasty. I liked them, but I'm not some fancy-pants.

          I don't like Soju.

          The rice whiskey in Thailand was once served with a snake in it. I liked it. It didn't taste snakey.

          1 Reply
          1. re: hewn
            Cinnamon RE: hewn Jun 9, 2009 08:45 PM

            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.

          2. Phaedrus RE: Midlife Jul 16, 2008 05:58 PM

            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.

            1. Sam Fujisaka RE: Midlife Jul 16, 2008 07:09 PM

              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.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                reiflame RE: Sam Fujisaka Jun 11, 2009 05:32 PM

                Agreed; the Laolao we had varied from almost water to turpentine in strength! It was almost always served in old water or Beerlao bottles though, which was equal parts awesome and gross.

              2. autmommy RE: Midlife Jul 16, 2008 10:27 PM

                I am certain that you have never seen Zimmern taking shots of any of that stuff, he has been dry for years. That's how he ended up living in MN (Hazelden)

                2 Replies
                1. re: autmommy
                  Midlife RE: autmommy Jul 17, 2008 11:23 AM

                  I can't say that I ever HAVE seen Zimmern drink that stuff, come to think of it, but it is certainly shown on his show. I'll have to be more observant in the future.

                  1. re: Midlife
                    Kenji RE: Midlife Jun 9, 2009 04:13 PM

                    I've noticed that, when Zimmern's dining companions are having beer, wine, or some other alcohol, he always seems to be drinking water.

                2. Silverjay RE: Midlife Jul 17, 2008 01:06 PM

                  In Okinawa, Japan, the local drink is called "awamori", which is a type of Japanese shochu. It's a distilled spirit made from rice imported from Thailand, but the basic process of how it is made, like all Japanese shochu, is quite similar to whiskey actually. It has a flavor that has been called "earthy". It's usually enjoyed on the rocks. Sometimes it is aged in earthen jars. The alcohol percentage ranges from 25-45% depending on how much water has been added by the distiller. It's really one of my favorite spirits and I always keep some on hand.

                  A Bourdain or Zimmern might encounter awamori with a curled up "habu" snake in it. Habu are venomous snakes found on Okinawa and, per the usual critter pickled in hooch phenomenon, is purported to increase male fertility. Anyway, to be perfectly clear, awamori is not a moonshine as it is a very seroius craft and actually, quite well regarded among Japanese shochu-aphiles. It has a distinct, unique, and very pleasant taste- I believe.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Silverjay
                    Debbie M RE: Silverjay Jul 17, 2008 04:07 PM

                    Awamori with habu:

                    1. re: Silverjay
                      Cinnamon RE: Silverjay Jun 9, 2009 08:56 PM

                      So does the snake add any notable flavor? I tend to stay away from mixed media like that, although snake bile is amazingly pleasant (adds sweetness) in a Traditional Chinese Medicine cough remedy called San Shedan Chuanbei Ye (which has other sweet things also).

                      1. re: Cinnamon
                        Debbie M RE: Cinnamon Jun 12, 2009 03:50 PM

                        I've never tried habu-shu, but I don't think it does, because the snake is left intact. I have tried a similar Vietnamese snake liquor, and any extra "flavor" came from the addition of herbs.

                    2. Caroline1 RE: Midlife Jul 17, 2008 02:44 PM

                      Well, I've only had "home made hooch" in five or six countries, or to put it in a more refined way, "alcoholic beverages created without benefit of a formal distillery", and my experience is that they all taste raw, have an after taste of jet fuel, and none were something I'd want to serve with cafe filtre and Cuban cigars after dinner. But if they paid me to do a shot or two what they pay those guys, I'd probably do it. But unlike AB, I would NOT smoke!

                      10 Replies
                      1. re: Caroline1
                        Sam Fujisaka RE: Caroline1 Jul 17, 2008 02:53 PM

                        Again, it varies. I've had aguardiente (without anise flavor) from northern Ecuador, rice wine in Oudoumxay, and some local "Mekong"' near Canh Tho that were smooth and good. But I've equally bad stuff on the Plain of Jars, in the Philippines and Cambodia (coconut and sugar palm), and in Peru. The best of all is locally distilled singani in southern Bolivia--made from grapes.

                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                          Caroline1 RE: Sam Fujisaka Jul 17, 2008 03:06 PM

                          I suspect proof plays a role too. Somehow all of the good folks who insisted I hoist one were bragging about how strong the stuff was. If frazzling your dendrites is the goal, grain alcohol will do the job nicely. Mix it with OJ and you'll go out with little aftertaste.

                          1. re: Caroline1
                            Sam Fujisaka RE: Caroline1 Jul 17, 2008 05:10 PM

                            Part of drinking straight hootch back in the US was eventually saying, "Don't nobody light no match".

                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                              Phaedrus RE: Sam Fujisaka Jul 17, 2008 05:22 PM

                              Part of the problem is that everyone is so hopped up on drinking it that no one actually let the stuff age and mellow. If you were to drink bourbon or scotch straight out of the distillery, the liquor is clear as water and chances are it will range between a little rough to really rough. The aging in fired oak barrels makes a huge difference. Another example is the difference between regular 100% blue agave tequila, reposado tequila, and a~nejo tequila, the non 100% blue agave stuff are fine for margaritas but nasty for sipping.

                              1. re: Phaedrus
                                Sam Fujisaka RE: Phaedrus Jul 17, 2008 05:41 PM

                                You're completely correct (although some of the home distilled rice or grape wines can be quite good). But let me ask, I don't like the really aged rums. To me, four or five years is good. Any more time costs more but tastes insipid. Just me?

                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                                  Phaedrus RE: Sam Fujisaka Jul 17, 2008 06:36 PM

                                  To me whiskys are different, I like the 10-12 year old scotch. The older stuff I have had, even though they cost a ton more, seem musty to me, so you're not alone. Not a huge bourbon drinker, although I have liked the Maker's Mark that I have had.

                                  Clear tequila is aged at most one year. Reposado is aged anywhere between 1-3 years and a~nejo is aged 3 or more years. Depending on the bottler, I tend to like the reposado a little more than a~nejo. Its just a little brighter but the edges have been smoothed over. I don't have much experience with rum, I like the Colombian rums I have had but most of the Caribbean rums I have had have been the mass produced, quickly bottled type whose taste you usually overwhelm with a mixer.

                                  1. re: Phaedrus
                                    Sam Fujisaka RE: Phaedrus Jul 17, 2008 08:52 PM

                                    The gold standard for rums are the Nicaraguan Flor de Canas of different ages.

                                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                                      Cinnamon RE: Sam Fujisaka Jun 9, 2009 08:58 PM

                                      These are beautiful. (The Flor de Cana line.)

                                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                                        StriperGuy RE: Sam Fujisaka Jun 10, 2009 06:49 AM

                                        That's a pretty bold statement considering how many rums there are in the world. I have a bottle of basic Flor de Cana at home and I don't consider it anything out of the ordinary. I can name a dozen other rums I prefer.

                                        One of my favorite reasonably priced sipping rums is Brugal Anejo from the D.R. But there are many that I like. Much less subtle, but also very noteworthy is Ron del Barrilito from P.R. particularly the 3 star.

                                        That said I have had superb rums from all over the Caribbean, Central, and South America.

                                        1. re: StriperGuy
                                          Sam Fujisaka RE: StriperGuy Jun 10, 2009 07:24 AM

                                          You're absolutely correct.

                        2. StriperGuy RE: Midlife Jun 10, 2009 06:52 AM

                          Have not tried the Asian ones though I have had Maotai and Shochu. But pretty much everywhere in the developing world they have locally distilled spirits.

                          Reason they often taste of turpentine or jet fuel is they are not very selective in tossing out the heads (other volatiles other than ethanol) that evaporate off at the beginning of the distilling process.

                          In West Africa I tried numerous types of "Local Gin" which is really just a euphemism for hooch. It was distilled from just about anything including palm wine, sugar cane, and who knows what else.

                          Crudely fermented booze all has some of that bite and aforementioned turpentine taste.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: StriperGuy
                            gfr1111 RE: StriperGuy Jun 16, 2009 02:38 PM

                            Interestingly, there is a corn liquor sold in liquor stores in the United States that comes in a mason jar-shaped bottle and proudly boasts that it has been aged "3 days". I bought some and it's still mellower and less "kerosene-y" tasting than the raw stuff I have had in Southeast Asia, Korea, and Japan. So maybe the professional distiller in the United States for the raw corn liquor was still "tossing out the heads," as you wrote, StriperGuy, thereby resulting in a mellower product.

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