A guest post from my wife Kavey, author of Kavey Eats.
I know very little about rice wines and had certainly never heard of Vietnamese rice wine liqueurs until invited to try them at Pho restaurant.
Unlike (grape) wine, made by fermenting the juice of grapes, rice wine is made by fermenting the starch in rice. It's actually a little closer to how beer is brewed rather than how (grape) wine is made, but whereas the malting process naturally develops the enzymes necessary to convert beer grain starches into sugar, a mould called Aspergillus oryzae is usually added to rice topromote the starch to sugar conversion process. Incidentally, the same mould is also used to create miso and soy sauce by fermenting soy beans.
Although different varieties of rice wine are made and enjoyed throughout East Asia, in China, Korea, Bali, Laos, Burma, the Phillipines, even parts of India… like many in the UK, I had previously only encountered sake – Japanese rice wine.
On their most recent trip to Vietnam, Stephen and Juliette Wall, the owners of Pho restaurants, fell in love with Vietnamese rice wines and rice liqueurs, and decided to bring a range made by Son Tinh to the UK.
Son Tinh make their rice wine products using a traditional process, as described here.
Usually served as an after-meal digestif, you can choose from plain light or dark rice wine liqueurs, fruit liqueurs in plum, passion fruit and apricot flavours, and a red sticky rice wine liqueur, said to be reminiscent of port.
Plum rice wine liqueur – dark fruit flavours, a smoky aroma and taste, smooth, the sweet and sour are nicely balanced.
Passion fruit rice wine liqueur – the fruit aromas and flavours are far more subtle than the plum, and the sourness packs a much bigger punch than the sweet. This was one was too sharp for my tastes.
Apricot rice wine liqueur – the sharpest of the three fruit wine liqueurs, but with more of a fruit flavour than the passion fruit, though it tasted more like citrus than passion fruit to me.
Red Sticky Rice Port – for me, this one had a distinctly fishy smell, perhaps a trick of the mind brought on by the strongly miso and Marmite umami flavours? That savoury taste, along with the sharp sour notes that seem intrinsic to these rice wine liqueurs meant that this one was definitely not for me, though it'll likely be popular with those who embrace bitter flavours.
With my sweet tooth, the plum flavour was definitely my favourite, and my friend picked the same choice from the four above.
If you are looking for a different drink experience, and want to try something new, do consider checking out these Vietnamese rice wine liqueurs.
Kavey was a guest of Pho.
This post was originally published 27th February, 2012. It was last updated 1st June, 2023.