I haven’t had much to drink in Vietnam. I enjoy beer, but there’s very little variety in this country — Saigon Beer, Hanoi Beer, and all the others pretty much taste the same. There are a few microbrews like Hoa Vien here in Ho Chi Minh City, but it’s a bit expensive for dark Czech beer.
What Vietnam lacks in beer, it makes up for with liquor. There are some local distilleries making vodka and rum, which I have yet to try. But I have found some other spirits to taste. The first of which was a cocktail after a long day of walking around the city to see some sights. I ended the day at the Rex Hotel, which was the site for Vietnam War media briefings that became known as the 5 O’clock Follies. In honor of the briefings, the rooftop bar (alright, fifth floor outdoor bar) has a 5 O’clock Follies cocktail.
While overlooking the ultra-luxury of Saigon with my $15 cocktail, I realized that Vietnam just isn’t that inexpensive. The area is surrounded by shops and restaurants that I might be able to afford if I decided to wipe out my savings in one fell swoop. The expensive cocktail was a nice treat while I watched the sunset from the wrong direction — it was light and refreshing with plenty of mint and lime mixed in with the vodka, light rum, and midori. However, I doubt I’ll head back to the Rex Hotel for another such cocktail when I can get beer for less than a dollar. Even the specialty cocktails at the Kolo Klub at the Hoboken Pilsner Haus were slightly cheaper than the Rex Hotel.
My next spirits of interest were samples on my day tour of the Mekong Delta. At a coconut candy factory, they also made coconut liquor and a rather frightening infusion of rice wine. Until my tour guide started talking about it, I had no idea there were free samples of the rice wine, which I really wasn’t sure I should drink to begin with. I have seen large jars of this fermenting in many restaurants around Vietnam.
The rice wine is infused with plenty of dead snakes that are probably venomous as well as some scorpions and who-knows-what herbs and spices that Col. Sanders would’ve never dreamed of using in his secret recipe.
I have seen some of these infused with whole birds (feathers and all), but this one was just snakes and scorpions. It wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever drunk, but it was close (maybe third or fourth worst). It just tasted like bad whiskey. But hey, they claim it’s good for virility — it’s Viagra’s greatest competition in this part of the world.
The coconut liquor was much better. It even came in a cool coconut bottle. For only 29% alcohol, it had a rather pungent aroma of alcohol. Fortunately, it was much smoother going down. It was a little sweet with only a light coconut flavor — more like the coconut water you can get everywhere in the area. It probably would go great in some cocktails, but I don’t feel like mixing any in my little Saigon apartment.
Have you tried any of these or know of others that I should try before leaving Vietnam?