VietnamFood & DrinksVietnamese Rice Wine - Traditional Alcohol in Vietnam

Vietnamese Rice Wine – Traditional Alcohol in Vietnam

When talking about alcohol in Vietnam, Vietnamese beers are often the first to appear in your mind. However, in the authentic style of drinking with a Vietnamese, one must know about rượu, aka rice wine. Not only has it been in the picture of Vietnamese families for centuries, but Vietnamese rice wine has also gone through many ups and downs in the glorious national history.

What Exactly Is Vietnamese Rice Wine

As the name suggests, rượu is made from rice. However, rượu is an encompassing term for most of the traditional alcohol in Vietnam. The precise type of rice wine depends significantly on the regions producing the wine and the winemaking process. For example, rice wine in Northern Vietnam is called rượu gạo, while people in the South would refer to it as rượu đế.

Depending on the type of rice and the distilling techniques, rice wine can come in plenty of colors and textures

The wine-producing process is relatively simple thanks to minimal tool requirements, little labor work, and the ubiquity of ingredients. Freshly harvested rice will be cooked, mashed, and left in ceramic pots for several days to weeks for natural fermentation. After that, the alcohol is distilled and can be used for immediate consumption or infused with other fruit and herbs such as plums, apricots, and apples… All in all, the desired result is a clear and potent type of alcohol.

How Many Types of Rice Wine Are There

Plain Rice Wine/Liquor

Rượu đế, or rượu gạo, is the simplest and plainest form of traditional alcohol in Vietnam, and to gather a complete panoply of rice wine is nearly an impossible mission. As mentioned above, rượu varies tremendously according to different regions, let alone the types of rice. There are some other distinct types that you might come across when exploring the cultures of Vietnam.

Medicinal rice wine has a variety of crustaceans and herbs

Herbal or Medicinal Wine

Rượu thuốc is rice wine infused with medicinal herbs, plants, and even animals, including snakes, lizards, and monkeys. This type of rice wine is believed to cure physical ailments and enhance “male virility.” Another famous kind of rice wine is rượu cần, which is immensely popular not only among Vietnam’s ethnic minorities but also to domestic and international visitors. Rượu cần is usually consumed communally from a big ceramic jar and with long bamboo straws. Legends have it that some communities even drink rượu cần through their noses, which you may have to witness yourself to believe.

Specialty Rice Wine in Each Province

Almost every region or province in Vietnam has its own signature rice wine based on the regional agricultural characteristics. For example, in mountainous areas where people have access to wild herbs, chances are that the wines are infused with herbal ingredients. On the other hand, in fruitful regions such as the Mekong Delta, the locals would make rice wine with the local fruits.

(In picture: Moc Sa rice wine in Moc Chau)
Mu Cang Chai rice wine
Mau Son rice wine

A Brief History of Vietnamese Rice Wine

Rice wine has been an integral part of Vietnamese culture and economy since the 14th century, and there are many tales and myths about this traditional alcohol of Vietnam.

Vietnamese Rice Wine in the Daily Life

For the longest time, rượu has been far too familiar with Vietnamese daily life. Being an agriculture-based nation, most Vietnamese agrarian households would use some of their rice harvests to make rượu and then feed the fermented grains to the pigs. Raising pigs back then was a far more lucrative business, so initially, rice wine only came as a pleasant byproduct. Every day, the farmers would take a sip of rice wine before working in the fields, which helped them stay warm in the cold of the early mornings and keep them alert to sustain the arduous working hours.

rice wine 5

Vietnamese Rice Wine in Special Occasions

The presence of rượu also carries ceremonial values in the Vietnamese people’s hearts and souls. According to traditional Vietnamese wedding ceremonies, for example, the groom must present at least eight to ten jars of rice wine to the bride’s family to gain permission for the marriage. A folk tale is also associated with the Vietnamese family’s values: whenever a daughter is born, the family makes a jar of rice wine and buries it underground. Only when the child is married should the wine jar be dug up to treat everyone coming to the wedding. Although very few Vietnamese would do that in modern days, such practice has coined the widely popular term of “con gái rượu,” which can be roughly translated as “the wine daughter”. Nowadays, rice wine still frequently appears in Vietnamese weddings, funerals, and death ceremonies,…

Rice Wine in Vietnam’s History

In the past, Vietnamese society consisted mainly of dispersed and separated households, and rice wine was produced for individual families only. It was not until the 19th century that small wine factories were established, and wine trading slowly became popular. The ethnic Chinese, the prominent merchants of the day, quickly grasped the opportunity and developed rice wine commerce and production. Later on, during the colonial period, the French used rice wine to control the protectorate of Vietnam. Heavy taxes and even a ban were imposed on traditional alcohol, in addition to the introduction of Western liquors, which were a few examples of the enemy’s relentless effort to diminish the cultural values of Vietnam.

Overall, rice wine is neither your average alcohol nor a delicate beverage. It is, however, a testimony of the country’s honorable past and a priceless statement of the Vietnamese people’s proud culture.

Where Can You Find Rice Wine

Fun fact: you can find some rice wine at almost every street vendor locally known as quán nhậu, and it doesn’t even require an ID. If you can visit the Mekong Delta or other ancient cities of Vietnam, you can visit the wine-making families and look at the winemaking process yourself. On top of that, you can look at the local Vietnamese markets, supermarkets, or convenience stores, or check out our blog to see Places to Buy Wine in Ho Chi Minh.

Some Notes on Enjoying Vietnamese Rice Wine

Rượu is unquestionably not one of the easy-to-drink Asian spirits. The ABV of rice wine can go as high as 40 – 50 degrees, so beware on your first try.

Since most rice wine is locally made with little quality control, you may risk drinking “fake” rice wine containing harmful components. Make sure to buy your rice wine at trustworthy locations such as supermarkets or have a reliable local as your guide.

You cannot have rice wine without exquisite Vietnamese cuisine. Check out the best Vietnamese Street Food or join our Food Tour to discover more about the wonders of Vietnamese eateries.

Conclusion on Rice Wine – Traditional Alcohol in Vietnam

It may seem simple, but behind rice wine is the legacy of fighting for national pride. If you genuinely want to discover the century’s worth of Vietnam’s history, then put aside the cold beer, pick up a shot of rượu, and let the timeless story begin.

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