A couple of weeks ago a good friend and colleague returned from a family holiday in Thailand bearing gifts- a couple of innocuous looking bottles of Thai booze. I naively assumed they would just be your bog-standard domestic lager in a fancy foreign bottle, but I was very wrong.
Once in the glass, it was immediately apparent that the still, brilliantly clear, slightly viscous liquid was a spirit of some kind. This was my first (and hopefully last) experience of Lao Khao.
This is the justly feared and celebrated rice-spirit of Thailand and the nearest thing the country has to a national drink. Distilled from sticky rice and broadly between 35-55% abv, it has much in common with other semi-legal moonshines, but it has a slight sweetness to the palate and a strange oily-creamy lactose edge to the finish. To be honest, it’s far from the worst thing to reach my tongue- but the smell!
It’s pungent stuff, the immediate hit is of turpentine with an off-putting undernote of garage forecourt. Maybe, if I was being generous, I would say there was a very slight hint of coconut. The palate burns and offers little flavour to hide the fact that your drinking what is basically neat alcohol. When compared with say, a Polish rectified spirit it is, as the young people say, Rough AF.
I had a bunch of mates help me polish off a wee bottle and even then my hangover was one of those dentist drill & waltzer combos.
So, whilst I was very grateful to my friend for letting me experience the pleasures of Lao Khao first hand – I don’t think I can really recommend it to anyone else.
Key to Lao Khao’s popularity is price, a 33cl bottle will set you back a handful of baht- about the same as the cheapest available lager. This is mostly because beer production in Thailand is over-regulated and over-taxed. But whatever the reason, the cheapest available alcohol is also the most potent.
If, heaven forbid, a similar situation were to arise in Scotland, it would be like a bottle of vodka being the same price as a tin of Tennants and it’s easy enough to imagine the social and economic implications of that.
So if anyone offers you a bottle of Lao Khao all I can suggest is that you make like Zammo and just say no.