Mahia: The Moroccan Spirit

Mahia: The Moroccan Spirit

Have you ever heard of Mahia? Yeah, me neither. So, I decided to look into it. The following is a quick post containing some of the information that I found. First off, what’s in the name? Mahia literary means “water of life”, it refers to a relatively little known Moroccan spirit (about 80 proof) that is distilled from figs or dates with the slight addition of aniseed. As a whole, Moroccans consume figs and dates regularly since both are accessible to people from all walks of life, from rich to poor. The production of mahia expertly utilizes this resource; it was originally produced by the Jewish communities of within Morocco. And, it has a history that reaches back hundreds of years.

Mahia is considered the most famous alcoholic beverage in Morocco due to price and availability. Along the countryside, the drink is not only known as mahia, but also as mernica, which means “cheap whiskey”. If you ever get your hands on some, be careful because it is known to have an infamous ability to intoxicate. Enough so that it is often referred to as the “killer drink”. Because of this, the consumption of mahia should be done responsibly. There, I said it. Now, with the legalese behind us, let’s move on to production.

The Basics of Mahia Production

Historically speaking, Morocco is predominantly a Muslim country. Muslims are prohibited from drinking alcohol, however, mahia was consumed not only by the Jewish populations, but by non-Jewish Moroccans as well. During the 1940’s and 1950’s, Jewish people were forbidden from producing mahia in their neighborhoods. At that time, the authorities prevented the distillation and closed several homes that used to produce it. However, some people persevered and proceeded to set up small operations and sell mahia in secret.

The most common way of making producing mahia is quite rudimentary. Dried figs or dates are placed into a large container and yeast is added to the mix. No sugar is added due to the natural sugar content present in dates and figs. The container is then tightly closed for a period ranging from 20 days to a month. After this phase, the mixture is placed into another container and closed, except for a small opening through which a tube is attached, this is where the mahia drips out and is collected. While I admittedly may have glanced over several steps, these are the basics of distillation that produces mahia at a rudimentary level.

Contemporary Mahia

Unfortunately, many people have claimed that mahia has disappeared from Morocco due to the immigration of the Jewish people to other countries around the globe. However, locals know this to be incorrect. In Morocco, mahia is available in liquor stores, and some people produce it in their homes to enjoy among themselves or sell it in the local community. Still, outside of Morocco, mahia is not very common compared to global brands. The tide may be changing, however, if a craft distiller from Yonkers, New York has anything to say about it!

Introducing ‘Nahmias et fils’

David Nahmias and his wife Dorit are Moroccans who migrated to the United States. Together they have created a brand of mahia under David’s family name called “Nahmias et fils” which means Nahmias and sons. The brand “Nahmias et fils” has been an extension of the family heritage that David inherited from his family back in Morocco. He learned the authentic methods of producing the Moroccan spirit from his family who were among the Jewish mahia distillers since 1900. It was a tradition that was passed down from one generation to another. As the sole producers of mahia in the U.S., and using copper stills, David and Dorit have set the bar high. The quality of their modern mahia is said to be quite remarkable.

Indeed, Nahmias et fils has been recognized during global events such as The Tasting Panel Magazine where it obtained 93 points. It was also awarded a silver medal during the New York International Spirits Competition, and an A rating by the Good Spirits News… Impressive! With this success, the brand has helped to enable the spread of mahia awareness to more people around the globe.

Mahia is considered to perform well as both a aperitif and a digestive. The taste of mahia is best described by mixologist, Warren Bobrow, who is on record as saying, mahia is “chock-full of roasted figs and exotic anise, bathed in pools of warm sunshine.” I don’t know about you, but that description makes me want to taste a glass bottle of mahia! First, I’d like to sip it neat, then maybe try a few cocktails made with a true Moroccan spirit.


 

Participating in 2021 Shimazake Fest Online

Participating in 2021 Shimazake Fest Online

This year Okinawa’s annual awamori festival known as the Shimazake Fest was conducted online via Youtube and Zoom. I was asked to join and provide commentary about awamori. Initially I had several questions concerning which brands to work with, but it was explained that bottles would be sent to my home address prior to the event. This turned out to be true and the event was successfully completed yesterday, April 10th (it continues today but my participation is optional). The following post will be my follow up to yesterday’s discussion.

The Kick-Off

The event started a bit late, it seemed there was some technical difficulties that need to be ironed out. That was okay by me, though; I was running around trying to get the Blue Habu bar set up for on air production. For instance, I had to get a cooler box, ice, drinking water, tasting glasses, move a table, get an additional light, and figure out the best arrangement… Let’s just say that I had a lot going on behind the scenes. I just sat down to gather my thoughts when the event began to kick off.

The first group was from Higa Distillery, who discussed their new brand of Zanpa and gave suggestions on how to best enjoy it. The YouTube commentator was a former Awamori Queen so her participation was very professional and set the tone for the next commentator. Speaking of which, oh joy, I was up next.

Speaking of Awamori

After Higa Distillery, the torch was passed to Yaesen Distillery, based out of Ishigaki Island. A rep. from Yaesen introduced their brands: Green Bottle, Shima Urara, and Butterfly Pea liqueur.

The “Green Bottle” may not be the official name for this brand but it is widely known to be a term associated with the brand and it quickly produces hits when searching for it online. This product is barrel-aged, which gives it a nice sipping awamori, even at 43% ABV. During the Shimazake Fest, the presenter noted the aging process, and I asked if they used bourbon casks. The reply was that oak casks were used, specifically French oak.

Yaesen Green Bottle

This makes it surprisingly sippable to be enjoyed neat, but it is also quite nice as a highball, which we shared tastings during our online meeting. I made sure to add a lemon slice in my glass. Yaesen Green Bottle has obtained a Superior Gold Award in the shochu category during the 2020 Tokyo Whisky & Spirits Competition.

Next up we tasted the Shima Urara. The presenter expertly explained that Shima Urara is made from rice grown in Ishigaki Island. This is unique to the brand because the majority of Ryukyu Awamori is produced using Thai rice. It is a long standing tradition that has endured for centuries. It seems Shima Urara will help Yaesen to prove that excellent, award winning awamori can be made with locally procured rice. I am excited to see the trend continue, and taste what else they come up with! Rice cultivation can be great for the local economy, provided they have enough people to work the fields. It is a labor intensive industry, from what I understand.

Shima Urara

Shima Urara was suggested to mix well with water, a popular way to enjoy it at an izakaya in Ishigaki Island. I also enjoy it straight or on the rocks with a lemon slice. It is mellow and easy to drink at 25% ABV. The use of locally grown rice is a nice touch. It is a noticable difference when comparing other awamori at the same alcohol percentage. Shima Urara is also an award winning awamori, it received Gold Award during the 2020 Tokyo Whisky & Spirits Competition.

Lastly, we discussed Butterfly Pea liqueur. Okay, I’ll admit it. The first time I heard this, I thought, “Say what, now?” In preparation for the Shimazake Fest, I took a few moments to Google the term. It turns out, I have seen the butterfly pea flower often in Okinawa, just didn’t know what I was looking at. Now I can say that I also have a pretty good idea of how it tastes.

Butterfly Pea Liqueur

This liqueur is 35% ABV, sweet but not too sweet. It would make a nice cocktail, especially given the introduction of lemon juice makes the natural blue color turn pink. This was demonstrated during our online discussion yesterday. It would be interesting to experiment with this liqueur to see what other color combinations one could come up with.

Final Thoughts

The Shimazake Fest 2021 was a success overall. I attended Day One, and Day Two is going on as I type this post. No doubt it is going swimmingly, many great minds have put a lot of thought into making this event a go despite COVID. While it was my first time being broadcast on YouTube, I don’t think it will be the last. This was a good experience because I had an opportunity to taste new-to-me awamori and share my opinions in Japanese. I am not the best choice for professional insight or Japanese abilities but I appreciate the invite. It will serve as motivation for me to continue to study, practice, and learn. Kanpai!


 

 

 

Introduction to Japan Sake & Shochu Academy

Introduction to Japan Sake & Shochu Academy

Warning, this post is about to get personal! No, I won’t be sharing any deep secrets about the past. I decided instead to share an introduction to Japan Sake & Shochu Academy (JSS) and my experiences during the training. I will discuss the history of the course and include some of my thoughts on the curriculum, etc.

However, before I proceed, there is an announcement. In light of the corona pandemic, most of us were no doubt concerned about how it would affect the course. We were happy to hear that the class had not been canceled and that we would take the necessary precautions. Indeed, during each day of training, we all wore face masks the entire time. We also checked our body temperatures prior to entering the classroom, washed our hands often, and we were able to social distance during the lectures.

With that said, let’s move to the introduction to Japan Sake & Shochu Academy, as promised.

The Official Beginnings

The Japan Sake and Shochu Academy was launched in 2015 by the Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association and the National Research Institute of Brewing. The goal is to introduce foreigners to Japanese sake, shochu and awamori. These are the special liquors of Japan. Our training began by learning about the history of Japanese sake brewing, which is said to have begun in the palace known as Miki-no-tsuaka. The Heijokyo Imperial Court (710-784 AD) had a sake brewing section that was created specifically for this purpose. The remnants of this brewing section can still be seen in present day Nara Prefecture.

From this history, we know that sake was primarily used during Shinto ceremonies and as offerings to Shinto gods. However, history shows real progress in sake brewing being made during the Muromachi Period (1336-1573). During this era, koji (rice mold) production increased, and the Shogunate began to tax the production of sake. As a result, brewing technologies significantly increased, which led to an growth in the number of sake breweries.

The subsequent era, Edo Period (1603-1868), is especially when mass production and shipments of sake expanded, resulting in improved distribution and maritime advances. Through the Muromachi and Edo Eras, sake played a significant role in Shinto and Buddhist religious practices. Due in part to this usage, it easily transitioned into Japanese society via events such as wedding ceremonies, and social gatherings, etc.

Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Program

As the subheading reads, we are getting back to the program, however, we never left. The history of sake was the foundation of our training during JSS. From what we were told, this section was not included in previous years. It is good to know some of the history of sake and how it permeates Japanese culture, but perhaps it could be condensed a bit. Personally, I enjoyed the detailed history lessons but one could see how a non-history buff could question, “So, when are we getting to the good stuff?”

In addition to lessons on sake history and culture, Day One of the JSS course also included: learning about rice, washing rice in preparation for koji, koji making, and of course a lot of sake tastings. The organizers have mentioned that we will have tasted 20 different brands of sake during the course of our weeklong training. I’d say that we came close to that on our first day.

Japan Sake & Shochu Academy tasting samples.

Truth be told, I never used the spit cup, as suggested. Where’s the fun in that? Instead, it was more enjoyable to sip every sample. By the end of the day I was already nursing a slight buzz when we were invited to head out to dinner as a group.

Due to a state of emergency due to COVID, the restaurant was normally closed. However, they made an exception for JSS and us students. It goes without saying that dinner at a Japanese izakaya was amazing and we were treated with arguably the world’s best customer service. We enjoyed more sake and beer for a few hours and then called it a night. It was the end of a long and tiring day.

Day Two

We had the luxury of experiencing sake food pairings during Day Two of our training so the use of the provided spit cup was also a no go. The experience of pairing sake with carefully chosen foods was eye-opening. We learned about which styles go well with certain foods and that such pairings are not limited to Japanese cuisine. Due to the various styles and properties found in sake at precise, chemical level, it can be heated (or cooled) to draw out even more explosions of flavor and umami. Likewise, experimentation is encouraged and Day Two helped us to realize that and appreciate the versatility of sake. Dare I say, the possibilities are infinite.

We learned about pairing sake with salmon and other foods.

Like the first day, Day Two ended with a trip to JSS Information Center, which was also normally closed due to the pandemic but opened especially for us. We learned more about JSS and their mission to spread the awareness of sake. And, we were treated to some original cocktails. From there, we headed to a nearby izakaya for more great food and drinks. Such great hospitality, one could get used to this.

Welcome sign at JSS Information Center.

Day Three

Day Three, we learned about shochu, specifically the history of distilled spirits in Japan and some theories as to when the practice arrived. We also had the opportunity to taste different styles of shochu such as rice (kome) and barley (mugi) shochu. We learned about different types of koji used for shochu and awamori and what purpose each koji is used for. Yeasts were also covered, as they could differ from what is used during the production of sake. The selection of rice koji and yeast is determined by the brewer, depending on what he or she hopes to produce in the final product.

Day Four

During this day of training, we are beginning to wrap up the coursework and prepare for our quiz. The day began with finishing up shochu styles that we did not cover during Day Three. Here we discussed, and tasted sweet potato (imo), brown sugar (kokuto), buckwheat (soba), and sake kasu (sake lees) shochu. Sake lees, a byproduct of sake production, is used by distillers in nearly every prefecture to produce sake kasu shochu. It tends to have woody aroma and the samples that we tasted reminded me of a light cheese. 

After enjoying our daily bento, we learned about standards and regulations regarding liquor laws in Japan and prepared for the sake and shochu quiz. The quiz was a multiple-choice summary of our course and including a tasting and matching portion. A few of us were a bit nervous to hear the outcome but we all passed! With the good news of Day Four in the books, we were all looking forward to our final day, Day Five.

Koji on display during Japan Sake & Shochu Academy 2021.

The Final Day 

During our final day in class together, we all received our official Japan Sake and Shochu Academy certificates. We then listening to a motivational speech by the President of the National Research Institute of Brewing and took a tour of the red-brick facility that housed our training. With certificates in hand, we soon loaded an awaiting bus and enjoyed a quiet ride to Izumibashi Brewery, located in Kanagawa Prefecture. There, we met with the CEO and took a tour of the farms, had a chance to see the inner workings of the brewery, and enjoyed some sake tastings. I even ran back to the bus to retrieve my wallet so I could purchase a bottle of white koji sake. Sake is typically made using yellow koji but this new product was made using white koji. The taste presented a pleasant surprise, it is a delicious and well-balanced sake.

A photo of the excellent white koji sake

Izumibashi is an impressive brewery that in addition to sake, also produces soy sauce, shochu, umeshu, and they even utilize a drone technology to inspect their fields. From the skies above, they analyze which fields need the most attention. We ended an already fantastic day by visiting the Izumibashi restaurant called Kuramoto Kako. There we enjoyed scrumptious food dishes that were paired with the sake and shochu that they brew and distill by hand. It is amazing to see how much Izumibashi is doing with a relatively small number of employees. They are managing a sake brewery, distilling shochu, farming their own rice, operating a restaurant, and providing tours of all of the above! It really is an impressive company and proved to be a great way to end our amazing week of training. Kudos to the Japan Sake & Shochu Makers Association and the National Research Institute of Brewing for continuing to put this course together. Year 5 was a success despite COVID-19. Best wishes for the next 5 years and beyond!

– Maurice D.


 

Brew Dreams During Quarantine

Brew Dreams During Quarantine

Is anyone else tired of COVID, already? I know I am! Like me, many people are turning to online opportunities and DIY projects to stay occupied and remain positive during the global pandemic. Now is a great time for us to finesse our skills or pick up a quarantine hobby. If you are like us, you may consider using this time to learn something new and exciting. How about learning how to home-brew? Indeed, it is an extremely popular past time. However, we understand that some of the concepts of home-brewing can be confusing. If so, don’t fret, we will cover the basics in this post. In the end, hopefully we will be able to shed some light and introduce you to an interesting opportunity. One that will help you realize your brew dreams during quarantine.

First, a Little Bit of History

The practice of brewing beer, mead and ciders on a non-commercial scale is often referred to as homebrewing. The concept of homebrewing is not a new one, though. Alcohol was traditionally brewed with some rudimentary methods at a domestic level, and eventually evolved as it became a valuable trade commodity. As a result, global demand for a variety of beverages increased. Accordingly, people around the world indulged in homebrewing for personal as well as commercial purposes. A major factor for this growth was the realization that homebrewing allowed the individual to avoid the higher cost of purchasing and transporting beverages.

Home-brewing makes production (and consumption) of such beverages affordable since it does not require expensive machinery. Likewise, brewing can be done fairly easily with relatively minimal skills. It is often said that “if you can make mac and cheese from a box, you can make beer”. Due to this correlative ease, brew connoisseurs are able to tweak the recipe according to their needs and specific tastes. As evident with the craft beer boom, we see many different styles, as brewers dial in beverages according to their liking.

And, since distilled spirits begin with the same processes, the methods used to homebrew tend to excite more than a handful of beverage lovers. People are flocking to pick up the hobby to past time or to learn more about their favorite styles. Likewise, since the process may be time consuming, it becomes a challenge that is highly rewarding when completed successfully. Moreover, because it is possible to brew beverages at a domestic level using basic household equipment, it makes it even more attractive to attempt at least once. You can even brew in your own kitchen, garage or back yard.

Store Bought Home-brewing Kits

Although a wide variety of methods related to home-brewing are available, all of them are highly related. The simplest way to begin with home-brewing is using home kits, which are readily available. These kits include all the equipment necessary to complete the process, many even come with packets of the required malt extracts. Speaking of which, let’s get down to the basics. The basic process includes preparing the grains, boiling grains to produce wort, cooling the wort, and then fermentation by adding yeast. The final steps after fermentation are bottling and enjoying your newly concocted brew!

While this is an over-simplified explanation of the entire process, our goal here is to outline the basics just to give you an idea of how easy it can be. Once you get the processes down, you can see how easy it can be to experiment with different grains during the boiling phase, or different species of yeast during the fermentation phase. The combinations are essentially endless.

If you’re a beer enthusiast who is tired of being cooped up, consider pursuing your brew dreams during quarantine. Home-brewing could become a fun activity for the family to gather around on the porch or balcony.

If you would like to go beyond the basics of how to brew beer, consider a quality homebrew training program that you can take part in online. Click the button below to learn more about a popular program that we found while surfing the Internet. The vendor offers several bonuses that include FREE products. He also includes a “100% 60 Day Iron-Clad Money-Back Guarantee”. Altogether this makes the program an enticing buy!

Beer Brewing Made Easy


 

A Look At Japan’s Export Data

A Look At Japan’s Export Data

Around this time in 2019 we partnered with a local wholesaler and began an initiative to help establish their alcoholic beverage import/export capabilities. Looking at the genesis of that project, I can recall being excited to get started and hoping to see some of my ideas become reality. Well, at least that was the dream, anyway. Unfortunately, however, COVID-19 had other plans. In 2020, the global pandemic hit us with a hard, “Nope! Not today, fam.”

Not today, fam GIF

And before we knew it, days became weeks, and weeks became months. If we weren’t working from home, we were at the office completing tasks under varied limitations. To this day, as we begin 2021, the pandemic lingers and forces us to continue to take precautions. However, at least we now have better ways to cope. For this post, let’s take a look at Japan’s export data. This will help us to review background information as we go about planning for the future.

The Show Must Go On

As the saying goes, the show must go on and to that end, we are able to proceed with our mission to increase exports. We do so cautiously, while doing our best to follow mask-up and social distancing protocols.

For instance, we have attended several events via the internet, such as online exhibitions or virtual seminars. For these opportunities, we are grateful to the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO). Their efforts help to make such events possible. Indeed, there is good reason for the government to step in to help revitalize export growth. As it turns out,

…between September 2019 and September 2020 the exports of Japan have decreased by ¥-315B (-4.94%) from ¥6.37T to ¥6.05T, while imports decreased by ¥-1.13T (-17.4%) from ¥6.5T to ¥5.37T.

After reviewing the data, we are particularly interested in the increase that began in May 2020. During that month, export growth was well below -25% but it rose 20 percentage points to -5% by September 2020. We know how badly the COVID-19 pandemic impacted global markets. However, seeing the data to support Japan’s rebound is encouraging. Continuing to look at Japan’s export data, what are some of the specific programs or instances that led to the significant increase? On the whole, there are several government support initiatives that helped to drive the resurgence in global trade.

Regional Complexity Indexes

Still, the disparity between imports and exports can be felt in nearly every prefecture of Japan. This is particularly concerning for Japan’s southernmost prefecture of Okinawa, a chain of islands located about 530 miles from Kyushu.

Okinawa has an Economic Complexity Index (ECI) of -0.23. This places the island prefecture at 38 of 41 when ranked among other prefectures of Japan. Interestingly, Japan overall is currently ranked number one among nations, with a 2.31 ECI score. Therefore, when looking at Okinawa in relation to other prefectures, we must consider areas where local businesses can improve the ECI ranking.

While it may be obvious, we suggest that the ECI can be improved by boosting exports overall. More specifically, by including new product categories that have little or no representation, Okinawa could go a long way toward improving the ECI. With that, not only would the quantity of exports improve, but the types of products available to send abroad would also increase.

However, with limited manufacturing in Okinawa, it appears as though we are in for a long haul. Nevertheless, our goal is to help change the ECI outlook by working to improve export strategies that are specific to our industry. Awamori exporting is a great place to start because there is a lot of support in that area. 2020 was jacked up, but 2021 is the year we make things happen.

Low Carb Beer is Trending

Low Carb Beer is Trending

As the low carb diet becomes more popular throughout the world, many beverage companies are beginning to develop new products such as low carb beer or hard seltzers, which have little to no sugar or carbohydrates.

As evident in several areas, alcohol producers have responded to the low carb trend in dramatic fashion. For example, the emergence of the low carb beer in particular is generally caused by actions that the beer industry has taken.

However, while many of such beers have a reduced carbohydrate count, this does not necessarily mean that there has been any sacrifices in flavor. Followers of Atkins or Keto diets, and other low carb regimens would likely be happy to see this trend continue to emerge due to years of having to steer clear of beer.

Recently in Japan, Kirin Brewery Co. was the first Japanese company to produce a zero carb beer, and given the positive response thus far, it is pretty clear that low carb or zero carb beer is here to stay.

Shoppers in Japan can find Kirin’s new beer by following the link embedded in the photo below. Cheers!

Kirin beer with zero carbs.


Kujira Rice Whisky – Worth Hunting Down

Kujira Rice Whisky – Worth Hunting Down

Kujira Ryukyu 20 Years Old is a rather interesting, two decades old rice whisky from Okinawa that aged in ex-bourbon barrels and recently arrived in the States through import channels.
— Read on thewhiskeywash.com/whiskey-styles/world/kujira-ryukyu-20-year-old-is-an-import-rice-whisky-potentially-worth-hunting-down/

Last year, I tasted the Kujira 20 year that’s mentioned above and thought it was a winner. I remember being excited about the future of Okinawan whisky. However, I was a bit disappointed to learn that the product was intended for export only. It was not normally available domestically.

This year, I jumped at the opportunity to reserve a bottle of Kujira 24 year when I learned that it would become available locally and was due to drop soon. Today was the day that I received my limited edition bottle, one of 500!

A reveal of Kujira Whisky in Okinawa.
A reveal of Kujira Whisky.
Kujira rice whisky by Kumesen Distillery.

 

Today’s Toast

Today’s Toast

Today we toast Jose de San Martin with a cocktail that was created in his honor. Jose de San Martin led armed forces to help liberate Chile from Spanish rule in 1818. He didn’t stop there, he continued to fight for the colonies and went on to deploy impressive military tactics once again, that eventually helped Peru gain her independence from Spain in 1821. Follow both links to learn more about the leadership of Jose de San Martin.

While reading, or slightly thereafter, treat yourself to the ‘San Martin Protector of Peru’ by following the recipe shared below. For PiscoLogía Pisco Acholado, we’ve got you covered: Online Shop. For the Dubonnet, unfortunately we currently don’t stock any but shop online via Amazon or wherever you purchase your favorite brands of liquor. Cheers!


 

The Mystery Awamori

The Mystery Awamori

When I moved to Japan one of my hopes was to start secondary aging Okinawan awamori at home. While it is nearly impossible to source these ceramic pots in the US, it is not that difficult in Japan so long as you are willing to pay. These are typically reserved for long-aged, or kusu awamori (古酒泡盛), which can run hundreds of dollars per liter especially in the traditional decorative ceramic jars, or “kame” (甕).

To learn more, follow the link below. Blue Habu is mentioned but more importantly, it is our mission to help spread awamori awareness and appreciation however we can. We appreciate the post. カンパイ!
— Read on kanpai.us/mystery-awamori/


 

Exploring Rice-Based Spirits of S.E. Asia

Exploring Rice-Based Spirits of S.E. Asia

The Asian continent is full of examples covering rice-based spirits. Oftentimes, the still is handmade from very basic supplies. This post will highlight a few instances.

 

Where to start?

Our story begins in Laos where, a rice-based alcoholic beverage known as Lao Lao is traditionally distilled, often by women. The spirit is typically used during ceremonies or sold as retail and consumed in casual settings. It is also popular among tourists who have discovered that snakes or scorpions are often immersed in glass bottles or in jars of the popular beverage… Challenge!

The presence of snakes and critters was traditionally used for medicinal purposes and was thought to help boost a certain prowess particularly among men. Let’s just say that as shown in the image below, it makes you strong. Indeed, many still believe this to be more than just an urban legend.

Laotian snake wine on display in a local market.

Laotian “Snake Whisky”

Similarly, in neighboring Thailand, Lao Khao is prepared the same way, and for similar purposes. Consequently, this is a good juncture to mention that the term “Lao” refers to alcohol and the second word in the phrase refers to the location of origin. Thus, “Lao Lao” is Laotian alcohol and “Lao Khao” is often used for Thai alcohol. Interestingly, “khao” means rice in both Thai and Laotian languages, and it also is the term for mountain in Central and Southern Thailand.

Thai man sleeps off his Lao Khao binge from the night before.

Lao Khao in Thailand

“Cool, but while we are talking about Lao Lao and Lao Khao, what about the other neighboring country, Vietnam?” Well, let’s discuss Ruou de. This rice-based spirit is similar to Lao Lao and Lao Khao, as one could probably image due to Vietnam’s proximity and cultural similarities with Laos. Ruou de has several variations that include “rice wine” or “snake whiskey”, primarily sought out by tourists.

Examples of Ruou de in a Vietnamese marketplace.

Marketplace in Vietnam

 

Further East

Snake infused, rice-based spirits are not only found in S.E. Asia, but they are also prevalent further East in Japan as well. However, the distilled spirit is much more advanced and produced. The practice occurs in Okinawa with her tradition of producing awamori. In fact, all current awamori distilleries use long grain (indica) rice that is imported from Thailand to produce this cherished spirit.

We can look to the Ryukyu Kingdom’s role throughout the history of global trade for examples of how it helped to introduce the distilling methods that borne Ryukyu Awamori, which is widely recognized as Japan’s oldest spirit. (This reminds us of our very first blog entry: A Historical Look at the Alcohol Trade).

For an image of what awamori based “snake wine” looks like, we present habu-shu aka habu sake:

A habu-shu server on display at Blue Habu bar.

Habu-shu with Blue Habu in background

“Habu-shu” is a type of awamori based liqueur that forms a liquid tomb for many Habu, Okinawa’s indigenous pit viper. If you are wondering, the answer is yes, the business name Blue Habu is our way of recognizing, even appreciating, the significance that 3 known species of Habu have on the islands. We believe Habu play a role in not only the ecosystem but also the culture and much of the local traditions. Like the aforementioned “snake whiskies” prevalent in Southeast Asia, Habu-shu is quite popular among tourists. Indeed, when people hear the term “Habu”, they often think about Okinawa.

 

Welcoming New Options

Lastly, we have the privilege of shedding some light on a new spirit called Chura Lao. The special project was implemented by Co-Op Okinawa in 2017 as a way to help stimulate the Laotian economy. The goal was to create a brand of Lao Lao that could be exported to Japan. Thus, helping to create stable employment and technological advances well into the future.

Chura Lao from Laos.

Chura Lao’s first import into Japan

The word “chura” means beautiful in Okinawan language. Therefore, the thought was that choosing this name for the unique brand would make a positive impact on Okinawan consumers and help peak their interest. Likewise, the design printed on the brand’s label was also created to that end.

Chura Lao was successfully importing into Japan in March 2020. It will be interesting to see how well the project does in Okinawa. It has already gained the attention of consumers, businesses, and governments alike. Indeed, Chura Lao is more than just another product. It is a project that brings two nations together for one common goal — sustainable development.

From this last example we see how rice-based spirits can go from very basic production methods to become a mechanism of growth.


More about Chura Lao:

https://laotiantimes.com/2019/12/27/japanese-firm-to-import-lao-lao-alcohol-to-okinawa/

More about Lao Lao:

https://www.priceoftravel.com/676/the-cheapest-alcohol-in-the-world-laos-rice-whiskey/

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