As you’re probably already thinking, Asia isn’t historically thought of as one of the world’s principal alcohol producers. However, if you’re able to step outside the conventional box of Scotch whiskeys, French wines and Belgian craft beers whilst on vacation in this part of the world you’re in for a real treat.
Numerous countries in the Far East have stepped up their game when it comes to the quality of the alcoholic beverages they’re producing, and a tour of the local winery or brewery could open up a whole new world of flavour to complement the exquisite local cuisine you’re eating as well.
A world away from the Caribbean
Nestled in the Gulf of Thailand, you might not automatically think of Koh Samui when it comes to rum producing. However, the island’s Magic Alambic Rum Distillery on the south coast, near Bang Kao, produces an eclectic array of flavoured rums that are perfect for forming the base of your tropical cocktail. Now under French ownership, the establishment offers a fine mix of Thai splendour and Mediterranean sophistication, and there is a French restaurant on site for those that want to balance alcohol out with some good grub. The open-air tasting room is situated within a rustic coconut-thatch hut, which is perfect for catching the breeze while you sample the pineapple, coconut and orange flavoured varieties.
Off the beaten track
Visiting one of Thailand’s rapidly-growing wine regions is popular for those that want to explore off the beaten tourist track and see a little more of the Kingdom’s stunning countryside. The nation’s international wine-making reputation has come a long way in the last two decades, and the scenic Khao Yai National Park region is a convenient distance for travellers that don’t want to venture too far from Bangkok. The area is home to several vineyards and wineries, and sheltered by the region’s cool rolling hills is the Khao Yai winery. Visitors can enjoy a guided tour of the vineyard and winery before heading to the tasting room for their first try of this rich, fruity wine. There’s also accommodation available for those that want to make a weekend of it.
Your sipping pleasure
While the Japanese have been brewing whiskey for less than a century, the distinct range of malts produced by the country now means that its reputation is garnering greater international acclaim. The industry started its life dominated by two men – Masataka Taketsuru and Shinjiro Torii. Taketsuru actually picked up his whiskey-making skills in Scotland before taking his knowledge back to Japan to set up his own distillery. Situated on the outskirts of Kyoto, the Yamazaki distillery is well worth a visit. The tasting tour offers a choice of around 70 whiskies from a range of peated and unpeated barley, different yeast strains and those from Japanese oak casks. There is also an interesting exhibit here that tells the story of Japanese whiskey.
Carving a niche
As well as making a name for itself amongst the world’s finest whiskey producers, Japan is also a rising star amongst East Asian craft beer producers. Since the mid-1990s it has been honing its array of craft brews and is now ranked as the seventh largest beer producer on the planet. If you’re more of a fan of artisanal concoctions, Japan is home to an incredible selection of breweries. The Minoh Brewery in Osaka is a perfect complement to the delightful array of culinary offerings in the city. Established in 1997, this brewery is constantly developing exciting new flavours, and it even offers an unmistakeable beverage that’s part beer, part wine. While the Kiuchi Brewery in Ibaraki began its life as a sake distillery, it now produces beer, shochou and wine as well – perfect for the adventurous visitor who wants to try a little bit of everything.
Situated to the east of Seoul and boasting some of South Korea’s most stunning mountain scenery, Gangwon province is home to one of the country’s finest makgeolli producers – Kooksoondang. This effervescent, milky-looking brew is actually a smooth and refreshing rice wine crafted from fermented rice, yeast and water. Packed full of probiotic cultures, this beverage is said to offer a whole host of health benefits as well. Visitors that make their way to Kooksoondang’s Hoengseong Factory can watch the brewing process of this traditional wine and go on a tour to learn more about how the incredible array of makgeolli flavours is achieved. Of course, there is also a chance to sample a selection of different makgeolli brews at the end of the tour.
- While makgeolli has long been one of Korea’s favourite traditional alcoholic beverages, it trails behind soju in the amount consumed per year. For those that want to learn more about this spirit, the Andong Soju Museum is the place to go. It tells the story of soju and is also connected to the Andong Traditional Food Museum, so guests can enjoy traditional food and drink together.
- For those that plan on making the most of the sampling part of the tour, book private transportation in advance. That way you can sip on different-flavoured brews to your heart’s content.
- If you make it to Samui’s Magic Alambic Rum Distillery, make sure to try the rum with the house-made mixer syrup, which is crafted from a secret recipe that includes brown sugar and lime. See more at https://www.facebook.com/rumdistillery/
- GranMonte is another of Khao Yai’s well-known wine makers, and is well worth stopping off at if you’re in the area. You can also sample the grape juice, jams and cookies made with the vineyard’s grapes.