Updated: Apr 5
When thinking about Laos' alcoholic beverages, people often think about Beer Lao. However, there is a distillery in Vientiane that produces rhum agricole called LAODI, a pun the founders wanted to pull prank on non-Laotians because, with different pronunciations, it could be 'good booze' or 'good Laos'.
Let Chomp explains a bit about the difference between run and rhum.
Rum is a catch-all term for every style of the spirit, from white and golden to dark and spiced rums. Most rums are produced by distilling fermented molasses, a sticky black treacle that is a by-product of sugar refining. Rhum, on the other hand, refers to one type of rum that is made out of fresh-pressed sugarcane juice. The term rhum is short for rhum Agricole (with 'agricole' meaning 'agricultural' in French), a style of rum initially distilled on French Caribbean islands.
LAODI was founded by two men of two nationalities, a Japanese Ikuzo Inoue and a Laotian Sihattha Rasphone. The two met when Inoue had a work trip to Lao and discovered they shared a passion for rum.
Sihattha has a piece of land about 45 minutes - an hour's drive from Vientiane's City Centre. That land was split into sections, the distillery, sugarcane plantation and tasting cabana. Inoue, a knowledgeable chemical engineer, moved from Japan to live in Laos as a master distiller. Currently, They produce more than 20 expressions, including private labels.
Chomp travelled to Laos to unlock the science and wisdom behind the LAODI brand and products.
As soon as we landed on the Laotian soil and walked out the gate, Sihattha, the CEO, picked us up at the airport. He drove us for lunch at Vientiane's famous restaurant expert in grilled chicken and Som Tum before taking us to the distillery.
When we arrived at the distillery's main gate, we were so relieved. We settled at the tasting cabana and saw a range of LAODI bottles. LAODI staff handed us water for some hydration before Sihattha showed us around.
Started with the sugarcane plantation. Unfortunately, LAODI had just finished filling their raw rum into the casks for maturation, so there were no sugarcane plants for us to see. Even without the sugarcane plants on the field, the scenery was serene and warm.
Later we saw smoke coming from the distillery's tall chimney. The CEO told us the staff were burning excess sugarcane bagasse in preparation for celebrating the staff's hard work that night.
He led us to the distillery. We saw a sugarcane washing station, two colossal juicers and a ginormous pile of sugarcane bagasse. As we followed Sihattha further, we saw lines of air-tight sealed clay jars. These brown clay jars are vessels for fermenting sugarcane juice. He told us they were working on something new using Laotian's traditional clay jar fermentation process.
We passed the stainless steel vats. These tanks' sole purpose is to ferment boiled sugarcane juice and wine yeast before being distilled by vacuum distillation.
Finally, we got inside the distillation building. LAODI use stainless steel pot stills for the distillation process because this type of still adds desired constituents to the spirit responsible for aromas and flavours in their rhum. However, LAODI added Kabuto, a Japanese wooden still, in the distillery.
Sihattha took us outside the distillation building to the cella, where they keep their maturing rhum. LAODI uses only ex-bourbon American oak casks and barrels from Kentucky to age their rhum. The charred oak casks that had absorbed and exuded aromas and flavours with bourbon give LAODI rhum distinct notes and tastes.
He took us back to the distillation building, and deep inside the building was a sampling stand where guests could taste samples from selling products to new experiments. Sihattha opened a mysterious bottle. We tasted this peculiar liquid. It wasn't rhum, obviously. It was gin due to the smell and taste of juniper. Inoue came from the green door beside the stand and talked to Sihattha in Japanese. Sihatha then brought another mysterious bottle for us to taste. The second one had the Frangipani flower, which was too sweet on the nose for us. The first one was more preferable, but we forgot what was in it. The gin is their ongoing project.
Sihatha and Inoue took us back to the tasting cabana and started our interview. We were curious about his relocation to Laos and Vientiane to make rhum.
"I was born and grew up in the countryside. City life isn't for me. Laos is manageable, not chaotic. Also, the regulations for getting the license are more accessible compared to Thailand. Laos is more relaxed than Thailand." Inoue explained. "Although Vientiane is the capital of Laos, it isn't bustling like other capitals. However, it has a border with Thailand, which is easy for us to commute there when needed. Vientiane has the Mekong River running through it, making it suitable for agriculture. In my opinion, these factors make it perfect."
We saw the Kabuto and clay pots earlier and asked Inoue what they were for. He simply replied that he wanted to make rhum with Asian wisdom.
"Using Kabuto, a Japanese wooden still commonly used for making sake, adds distinct characters to our rhum. The wood that we used for building our Kabuto was Hinoki wood. This wood has a pleasant aroma. This adds fragrance to the rhum since the distillation process. We haven't made all of our rhum with Kabuto yet, but we are selling the Kabuto series, so let's see how it goes.
"Fermenting food and drinks in the clay pot is part of Laos' cuisine. We have made rhum the Western way. Why can't we make rhum the Asian way?"
Although LAODI is a small distillery and makes their rhum to order, they have quite an extensive range of rhum, not just white and dark rhums. They produce exotic rhums such as Ume Marriage Rhum, Coconut Marriage Rhum, Ginger Marriage Rhum, Spicy Chilli Pepper Rhum etc. Now, they are working on their own gin. Chomp hopes we get to try the final product on our next visit.
LAODI Rhum is available at the distillery and their LAODI Bar. The bar is located in Vientiane City Centre. The bar has a nice view of the Mekong River and the border of Thailand. You ought to sit there while enjoying the view and LAODI rhum. Contact
LAODI Distillery (LAO AGRO ORGANIC INDUSTRIES LIMITED)
Telephone: +856 20 28298789
Location: National Road South No.13, Naxone Village, Pakgum District, Vientiane Capital, Laos