Moonshine Holiday

Too much of anything is bad, but too much of good whiskey is barely enough.
-Mark Twain

The light music of whiskey falling into a glass – an agreeable interlude.
-James Joyce

Freedom and Whisky gang thegither!
-Robert Burns

A fellow of literary pretensions, Daniel Cooper throws his lot in with the great authors of the ages and boldly forays into the breech of Thailand’s domestic whiskey offerings.


Saeng Som

Thailand’s most recognised whiskey isn’t actually whiskey at all, it’s made out of sugarcane, which in my book (and indeed any properly researched book on booze) makes it rum. Nevertheless it enjoys huge popularity with both tourists and the local population. Sang Som used to go under the name of Sang Thip and was widely rumoured to contain amphetamines or some other sort of stimulant. Nobody can confirm this for sure but I remember once an Australian Army officer telling me he banned his men from drinking it on leave.
Serving Suggestion: Best sipped through a straw from a bucket of ice, Coke and redbull, friends optional. Don’t drink this one neat unless you want to wake up with scars on your face.
Taste: Sweet. Slides down fast and comes back up just as quick.
Impact: This one should only be drunk if you don’t have anything to do the next day. The more you drink the more drunk and hepped up you get, giving rise to ‘secret ingredient’ rumours.

Lao Khao

The real Thai liquor, just as lao lao is the real Lao firewater and ruou can is the real Vietnamese rotgut. They’re all white distilled spirits made from rice and they all taste like old socks, yet there’s no shortage of nations willing to call it their own. Perhaps that’s not surprising, given popularity this paint stripper of a drop has with the salt-of-the-earth types who make up pastoral scenes of Southeast Asia. You’ve seen them, the old dudes with the scraggy beards, and conical hats, sitting on a country stile and smoking a pipe before politely passing out. Oh, for the simple life of the countryside.
Serving Suggestion: This tipple is best enjoyed neat, not because it tastes anything like OK, but because there’s no substance known to man that can mask its pungent flavour – it’s a task that’s baffled scientists and
barmen for centuries.
Taste: Like day-old bread in kerosene.
Impact: There’s really only one reason to drink this crap and that’s to get legless. To quote Douglas Adams, it’s “like having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick.”

Yah Dong

The alcoholic lottery

My Malaysian nearly-but-for the-grace of-god-father-in-law had a deer foetus in a jar of dry gin, but here in Thailand they use Lao Khao to make medicinal booze, exposing nearly-dad as either a barbarian or a man of fine taste. Steeping herbs, woodchips and small reptiles in high-test liquor has been an excuse for getting loaded from time immemorial (“Really dear, it’s for my health,”) but, given the correct herbs or lizards and enough soaking, the effects can be surprising. The name Yah-Dong is a umbrella turn for anything soaked
in booze, except for the drinker. For the backpacking set, the Five Satang Bar, in Pai, is the place to sample these exotic brain-killers, where you can choose from Kicking Horse Whiskey, Dick Stand Up Whiskey, Little Girl Fall Out of Bed Whiskey and others. Ask them nicely and they’ll give you a shot of Sell the Car, Sell the House, Sell the Kids, Find Somebody Else, I’m Never Coming Back Whiskey.
Serving Suggestion: No point in mixing this one and it’s technically a ready-mix, traditionally sipped from a bamboo shot glass.
Taste: Varies. There could be a woody taste, a hint of rabbit poo or even a snake-like tang, but alcohol is the main flavour.
Impact: There’s an old story about two backpacking boys who drank three bottles of snake whiskey and died from the diluted venom, so quite pronounced I’d say.

White Cock Vs. Black Thai

It’s Black Thai by default. White Cock is no longer on the market, but we think it’s a funny name anyway.


This Thai Whiskey deserves a mention for being referred to frequently in detective novels set in Bangkok, where the protagonist is always drinking Mekong with Coke in go-go bars. That’s because the old bastards who write these crappy novels haven’t been out on the piss properly for 20 years or so. This rice-based spirit (amazing what a little caramel colouring can do) is the product of a partnership between a local Chinese entrepreneur and a Farang alcoholic, back in 1985 and has been pickling livers ever since.
Serving Suggestion: Same as Saeng Som, they’ve been competing to get in your guts for years.
Taste: Like it came out of the Mekong. Ha ha, not really, but sometimes I just dream that the Mekong flows with whiskey.
Impact: Like the war drums of hell.

Lao Hai

This countryside cocktail is not something you can usually order in a bar. You buy a large pot stuffed with wort, mostly rice-husks, fill with water and let the yeast do its work. An hour or so later, have your mates over, grab a bamboo straw each and start sucking. Top up the water as you go and you’ve got a pissy rice-wine all night long. Don’t get sauced and knock over the pot though – you’ll never get the smell out of the carpet.
Serving Suggestion: There’s really only one way to drink this – through long straws, and standing up. Usually everyone drinks at once and it’s bad form not to suck your weight.
Taste: Sweetish, sourish. Reminiscent of spoiled rice, with a cheeky hint of cabernet.
Impact: A bit of work to get toasted on, but the journey is half the fun.

Johnny Black, Chivas, etc

Chief Editor Jim Algie shows off his whiskey collection

I’ll never forget the night when, as a pressman, I’d been invited to a champagne and caviar hi-so do and they were giving out Johnny Walker Gold. I’d never heard of the stuff before, but it shouldn’t be surprising that Thailand should be the place to see it. After all, Thais swallow more Johnny Black than anywhere outside of the US of A – which is why Chivas Regal have been going after the market so hard. The obsession with luxury hooch is more an indicator of class consciousness than fine taste, but that’s OK because anyone trying to be the big man will be easy to hit up for drinks.
Serving Suggestion: Best drunk over ice, slightly melted. Sadly it’s usually drowned in Coke. At least they don’t measure it with the bottle cap anymore.
Taste: Like good whiskey.
Impact: Gets you hammered, but so does brake fluid. Difference here is that you’re unlikely to be blind or dead in the morning.


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