The alcohol industry in Vietnam is booming, and liquor brands are starting to make a name for themselves both domestically and internationally. We’re going to avoid talking about the craft beer scene in this article, as it’s an industry that’s already found it’s niche. For this post, we’re going to focus on quality liquor that’s proudly made in Vietnam. Quality liquor is hard to come by, but it’s even harder to make on a consistent basis, let alone worry about branding and distribution. Here a shortlist of tried and tested liquor made in Vietnam.
Many/most of these are currently looking to develop international sales and distribution partnerships, so it might not be long before you start seeing them in your local bottle shop or pub outside of Vietnam. Who knows, it might even be you distributing them. Click on those links and get in touch with them for more info.
Did we say “proudly”? Well, Vodka Hanoi might not necessarily be a top shelf option, but Vietnam should be proud that it’s got a smooth, clean option for affordable drinking. Vodka Hanoi was my go-to drink during the Covid lockdowns. This glutinous rice based vodka is distilled, filtered and purified several times before getting passed through a few columns of charcoal to come up with a surprisingly drinkable shot of vodka. The company also has a few other items on their portfolio, including flavored liqueurs, a “whiskey” (yes, in quotation marks – I haven’t tried it yet), and hand sanitizer. Again, Covid.
Vang Dalat – Wine from Dalat
When someone says “Vietnam”, you’d probably be thinking rice paddies, banh mi, and motorbikes. You might not be thinking “wine”, but perhaps in the near future, you will be. Vang Dalat, as the name implies, is made in Dalat, which is in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. The cool climate is perfect for growing coffee, strawberries, artichokes, and grapes that are apparently good enough for making wine. There’s a certain echo of the “wine” China was churning not too long ago, which started off with a horrible reputation but has slowly improved in quality. The same will happen here, and it’s only a matter of time before they start getting some awards and accolades. Have tried a few varieties, and the most drinkable is by far Dalat Red that’s specifically labelled for Export. The other varieties are not necessarily bad, but they would be more suitable for stews, and braised meats. If you’re up in the mountains, would recommend getting a bottle or two just to give it a go.
Peace, Love, Apples. That’s the motto Saigon Cider has on their marketing material, and it pretty much sums up the company. It’s not necessarily “liquor” but it’s so good, I have to include it on this list. They’re based in District 2 of Saigon, which is an up and coming area for young creatives and entrepreneurs. The person behind Saigon Cider started brewing cider at home, but found a niche and decided to go commercial. Few things better than having the free market judge the quality of your product and the result is a light, refreshing cider that’s perfect for the hot climate in Vietnam. They have 3 flavours so far – classic Apple, the tangy Ginger, and a Chili cider with a real kick to it. Distribution is currently mostly focused in Vietnam, but they already have products placed in Cambodia, HKG, and France. They’re actively looking for partners in other countries. I order one of these things whenever I see them on the menu, so definitely give them a try!
De Spirit Ruou
First came across this drink in Phu Quoc, around New Year’s, where the Chinese-speaking, German Viet Kieu owner of bar House No. 1 was offering it as a shot. I’d had very little luck with ruou previously (various types of gagging, coughing, and lemon faces), so was understandably quite hesitant with taking this straight up. I’m glad the bar owner managed to talk me into it. That was a surprisingly clean, smooth, and drinkable shot of rice liquor. So good, in fact, that I had a few more shots and a few more De Spirit mixed drinks. Only found out after that the bar owner also owned De Spirit. Suffice to say, I can’t really remember much of that evening, but I do distinctly remember that there was a surprising lack of any hangover the following morning. It’s a good spirit. Touch base with the owners, I know they’re actively looking for distribution partners.
Son Tinh Original Ruou
For anyone who has lived in Vietnam for any significant amount of time, there’s a good chance that they’d have come across homemade ruou. Vietnamese moonshine will vary in quality, depending on who’s making it, what they’re using to make it, and how much they care about the process. I’ve had some that’s been so good that I can drink it neat, and others that have made me question why anyone would ever drink alcohol. Son Tinh is one of the better ones I’ve tried – there’s a reason why they’re produced commercially, and have a good range of flavored liqueurs. Not sure if they’re actively looking for distribution, but might be worth getting in touch to find out.
Song Cai Gin
Went to a small, hole-in-the-wall bar on Pham Viet Chanh, Birdy Bar, one of my regulars, and noticed this nice looking bottle. The name “Song Cai” written down in a classy font. Immediately thought to myself “wow, that’s excellent branding”, so asked the bartender if I could have a closer look. “Made in Vietnam”, it said. Interesting. I opened the bottle to have a smell, and it was very floral. “How much for this with tonic?”, I asked. “Not cheap”, she said. I ordered one anyway, I don’t know if it’s the best gin I’ve ever had, but it’s a damn good gin. Would rank this higher than any of the generic, western brands on most shelves. If they’re not being exported yet, they damn well should be.
Mashed Up Gin from Brewstillery Hanoi
Have only ever encountered this gin once, during one of those festivals at Outcast, but it certainly seared a place in my memory. It was one of the more unique gins I’ve had the pleasure of trying, with noticeable flavors of beer. Mashed Up Gin is, after all, made from “upcycled” craft beer. The distiller was telling me that each bottle is slightly different, as the flavors will change depending on what beer they used. It’s an interesting concept, and I’m curious to see how it develops. Not sure if this is going to be more widely available, but it’s sold at the Warehouse and is definitely worth trying if you can find a bottle somewhere. They now have 3 varieties. Would recommend having it with mixers, but served on the rocks, it can also be quite pleasant.
Saigon Baigur Gin
A high end, premium dry gin with 16 botanicals mostly sourced from Vietnam – Saigon Baigur certainly deserves a spot in your liquor cabinet. They’re already distributed in Europe, so there’s a strong chance readers in Germany and Switzerland would have access to this gin. I haven’t had a chance to speak with any of the founders yet, but they have managed to create a gin that would reflect the flavors of Vietnam, while also being accessible to a international audience. It’s a very smooth gin, with noticeable but not overpowering hits of star anise, cinnamon, and cardamom. The bottle itself screams “upmarket and trendy”, but don’t let that stop you from trying it out.
Rhum Mia by Saigon Liquorists
I’ve only ever had this once, at a house party, but it was quite memorable. I remember making a mojito with it, and went down smooth, with a light and refreshing taste. I’m not sure how widely available this is, but it’s worth trying to get your hands on a bottle if you can. The Facebook page of what I assume to be the owners, Saigon Liquorists, has this posted quite regularly – but surprisingly they don’t have their own page for the Rhum itself. And sadly, the website seems to be down. At any rate, they do proudly say that this is “made from fresh sugar cane juice from the Mekong Delta.” Would be good to have better access and distribution to this tasty white rum.
So there you have it, some of the best alcohol that Vietnam has to offer. While we may not be able to compete with the big names just yet, there are certainly some contenders in the mix. I for one am excited to see how the industry develops, and what new and exciting drinks we’ll be able to enjoy in the years to come. Cheers!