Learn Everything about Vietnamese Rice Wine


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Did you know that beside bia hoi, the number one alcoholic drink in Vietnam is the home-brewed rice wine? To prepare you with opportunities to be invited to taste rice wine upon visiting a local home, this post will help you learn everything about Vietnamese rice wine.

What is Rice Wine?

Rice wine, or “rượu gạo” in Vietnamese, is a Vietnam’s most popular liquor distilled from fermented rice. This rice liquor is traditionally brewed by families at home, featuring higher than 40% alcohol by volume. It looks clear, and a bit cloudy in appearance if not filtered.

Vietnamese rice wine

The liquor is also called “rượu quốc lủi” in the north, “rượu đế” in southern Vietnam. Those words literally translate as “state slip away liquor”, as to distinguish it from the “state enterprise liquor”. The country used to have a monopoly on liquor production, hence this illegally produced alcohol was similar to the American moonshine.

Comparing to other Asian spirits, while Japanese sake and Korean soju are consumed worldwide, Vietnamese rice wine owns a far humbler reputation. Because the rice wine is traditionally made at home and in modest quantities, making it less accessible to those beyond the country’s borders.

How is Rice Wine Made?

People in different regions of Vietnam have their own know-hows to make their best rice wine. Generally, to make 5 liters of strong rice wine, one would need about 10kg (22 lbs.) of rice. The whole process normally takes from 5 to 8 days, depending on the fermentation.

rice wine yeast

rice for making rice wine

fermenting rice

In Hanoi and its surrounding areas, the rice is used husked, but not polished, because the main flavors lie in the thin brown layer around the kernels. The selected rice is first steamed, then spread out to cool down to room temperature before sprinkling yeast (made from rice or herbs). 

The yeasted rice would then put into large ceramic jars for fermentation, after about 4 – 7 days (depending on the weather, ideal temperature is 25°C/ 77°F), it’ll be ready for adding water.The distilling process is then started, and it takes distillers about 4 hours to cook the fermented rice to get the expected liquor.

How Do Vietnamese Drink Rice Wine?

Thanks to a proliferation of small home distilleries throughout the countryside, rice wine is reasonably cheap, ubiquitous, and potent in Vietnam. In big cities, however, rice wine has lost the ground to beer, amidst concerns over the safety and quality of home distilleries.

People either drink the unadulterated rice wine (rượu trắng) or infused wine. The elder in the country tend to infuse their home-brewed rice wine with herbs, plants, and animals – most notability poisonous cobras, lizards, scorpions, tiger and bear hands, which they refer to as “rượu thuốc”, meaning “medicine wine”.

herbal wine

snake wine

Vietnamese traditional medicine practices believe that those “medicine wine” help improve “men’s virility” and cure ailments, such as rheumatism, lumbago, and many other health problems that farmers often face.

To intensify the flavors, various fruits including plum, apple, and apricot are often added to the liquor which is then sealed for several years. Son Tinh, the Vietnam’s only internationally awarded craft rice liquor, is well-known for producing fruit flavor rice liquor.

Where to Drink Rice Wine in Hanoi?

Much like other destinations throughout the country, there is an undeniable welcoming traditional etiquette to force guests to drink copious amounts of rice wine in Hanoi. It’s seen as a sign of friendship, a slave to custom.

distilling rice wine

Rice wine cooker

More often than not, our clients are invited by locals and vendors to taste their home-made rice wine during our food tours. But apparently, rice liquor should never be had on an empty stomach, and a street food tour will remedy that. 

Should you try one? We’d recommend that you quench your curiosity and try it out, but in small amounts, even it’s fact that many locals can’t go sober when it comes to rice wine. Other than that, enjoy the thrill of adventure!

Well, hope this post prepares you well with the Vietnamese rice liquor, also don’t miss the chance to try it and other famous drinks when you are in Hanoi. Join Flavors of Hanoi’s peronal foodie tour guide on our daily walking Hanoi food tour, and explore the best of what the city has to offer.

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