Samui Wining & Dining
Moon Shining

A quick look at what’s around when it comes to sundowners!

 

Page-4Remember that movie ‘The Beach”? (And if you haven’t seen it, you really should – it’s an insight into a whole subculture on and around Samui.) To continue: well, imagine Samui much like that, as it used to be, once upon a time. Apart from the unusual things to smoke back then, there was also a limited range of alcoholic beverages to enjoy. Humankind has a long history of falling over due to fermented fruit and, although there were undoubtedly a variety of local home brews, the old favourite was ‘rice wine’.

      Lao khao’ (trans: ‘rice-alcohol’) packs much the same abrasive smack as does the Irish (potato) ‘poteen’ the Turkish (raisins, figs) ‘rakis’, and indeed the Japanese (rice) ‘sake’, and with the advantage that it can easily be made at home. You can also use it to strip paint. Moving on and up to a more refined, and possibly healthier, alternative, there was ‘yaa dong’. ‘Yaa’ is ‘medicine’ and ‘dong’ means ‘pickled’. The latter term also, incidentally, being an English synonym for ‘drunk’.

      Traditionally this is a concoction of herbs, wood, bark, vines, roots, or the seeds of trees and other plants, sometimes also even insects and small animals, soaked in alcohol (usually rice wine) to extract the invigorative properties. Each of these splendidly restorative, dare I say, ‘liqueurs’, had a distinctive flavour and was given a colourful name to go with it – such as ‘Horse kicks the coffin’ or ‘All grown up now, can’t fall down’. Western visitors to Samui originally dubbed these shot(gun) glasses ‘accelerants’. Meaning they rushed you from zero to fall-down in just a couple of shots.

      Those were the days! Today there’s all sorts of legislation regarding yaa dong and, sadly, this dynamic form of home-brewed medicine has more or less faded away, apart from some of the more rural areas of the far-flung north and northeast of the Kingdom. Up there it’s much like the wilds of Nebraska but minus the snowshoes – there’s a lot of open space and only a handful of Mounties (most of whom are partial to a hit or two of ‘11 Tigers’ themselves). All of which brings us to the here and now.

      If you have a particular urge for it, you can still buy lao khao today from any 7-11, although the girl behind the counter will probably look at you sideways for a moment or two: it’s not a classy drink. Thailand, however, does make quite a lot of its own spirits, even though they are not quite on a par with their Western equivalents. The economy shelf holds the iniquitous ‘Sang Som’ (alternatively ‘Mekong’ whisky) favourite of all long-term farang residents but far too bottom-shelf for the Thais to suck on. It’s deemed to be a ‘whisky’ but is actually made from molasses and sugar.If you have a particular urge for it, you can still buy lao khao today from any 7-11, although the girl behind the counter will probably look at you sideways for a moment or two: it’s not a classy drink. Thailand, however, does make quite a lot of its own spirits, even though they are not quite on a par with their Western equivalents. The economy shelf holds the iniquitous ‘Sang Som’ (alternatively ‘Mekong’ whisky) favourite of all long-term farang residents but far too bottom-shelf for the Thais to suck on. It’s deemed to be a ‘whisky’ but is actually made from molasses and sugar.

      No, what the Thai tipplers go for socially is found one price-notch up – either the rather sweet Thai-made ‘Regency’ brandy or the ‘100 Pipers’ blended whisky. This is unusual as it’s imported, and usually this attracts a hefty tax (more on this aspect in a moment). There are several other spirituous beverages on the shelves, most of them produced by ThaiBev, the nation’s leading brewer. Other than the price, the acid (and that maybe the correct word) test for a Thai-brewed spirit is to try drinking it neat. If you can swill it around your mouth without instantly spitting it out, it’s probably imported.

       Beer is another story altogether. Casual visitors to Thailand often find it hard to get to grips with the flavour of Thai–brewed beer and in particular the distinctive aftertaste. All beer here is of the blonde lager variety and is particularly gassy to a Westernised palate. But a tip for you: drink it with a couple of ice cubes like the Thais do. And you’ll find brands such as Singha (say it “beer sing”), Chang, Leo, Archa, San Miguel and Tiger on sale in most places. On a personal note - I’ve seen sipping Thai beers for 15 years and if you put a glass of each of the above brands in front of me, I still wouldn’t be able to tell the difference!

      But imported beers are a whole new bag of fish, and they are keenly sought-after by visitors and expats alike. You’ll find labels such as Erdinger, Fosters, Guinness, Hoegaerden, John Smith’s, Kingfisher, Newcastle Brown, Old Speckled Hen, Stella, Tetley’s, Warsteiner, and more. But a word about the Irish ones, particularly the Guinness. Nearly all Guinness found here is made from condensed syrup that’s exported to Asia and reconstituted. One of the very few pubs which import casks (Guinness and Kilkenny) direct from Dublin is Chaweng’s Tropical Murphy’s, and their sister pub in Nathon, Max Murphy’s – and that fact is well-worth knowing.

         And then we come to a depression in the festivities – the wines. Alas and alack, the Thai people don’t generally drink wine. Thus, unlike imported whisky, it’s considered to be the same as a Mercedes, a luxury item, and so subject to ‘Luxury Tax’. This means firstly a hefty import duty and then a 200% luxury tax on top of that. The effect is that the same end-bin bottle that you bought for €3 to go with your supper back home costs more than €20 over here. Sad but true. Except for just one thing.

         And that silver lining is the fact that, due to this, increasingly more wine is now being produced in Thailand. The cooler climes of the northern region provide ideal growing conditions and there are now several vineyards in full-scale production. These might prove curious to a connoisseur. But not only are they affordable, their comparatively robust flavour is an exact match with Thai cuisine.

         What could be more perfect! There’s no longer any need to sample the homemade hooch of yesteryear, or sip at dodgy brews. On Samui, the only ‘moon shine’ you’re likely to experience is what’s all around you whilst you wiggle your toes in the sand at night. Samui’s not gained a rep as a tropical island paradise for nothing!

         

Rob De Wet


 


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