Drinks of Thailand
In Thailand, as in most of Southeast Asia, wine is still a rarely-consumed libation. But that doesn’t mean you can’t consume some wonderful alcoholic (and non-alcoholic) drinks on a Thai culinary vacation. Quite the contrary, as beer and spirits are popular accompaniments to meals and social gatherings.
Perhaps one reason for the popularity of lager-style and other blond beers is how well they pair with the Thai cuisine and climate. You won’t find heavy, hoppy beers here, only those that taste refreshing with a bowl of spicy “kaeng” (curry stew). Although you will readily find imported beer, there are also a couple of good local brews, most notably the two popular lagers, Chang and Singha, also available in the US and many other countries. One fun fact: in Thailand we’ve heard that the production of Chang is so inconsistent that the alcohol content varies from can to can!
As for spirits, like much of Asia, rice wine is popular in Thailand, although calling it “wine” is actually a misnomer, as it is made from fermented rice or other grains (similar to a Japanese sake, or Chinese Huangiju). Sato (or Siem Sato) is one common Thai rice wine, made from fermented sticky rice and sold in bottles much like beer. Although more alcoholic than beer, it tends to be much less potent than the rice wines you’ll find in other Southeast Asia countries.
Fermented rum-type spirits are also very popular in Thailand, and are usually referred to generically as Thai “whiskey.” They are most often made from a mix of fermented sugar cane, molasses, or rice, and they tend to be comparable in alcohol level to whiskeys and rums. Two common brands are Mekhong, which is also readily available in the US, and SangSom. How is it served? In Thailand, often in a plastic bucket, mixed with Red Bull or other soft drinks! But for a more elevated drinking experience, try the popular Sabai Sabai cocktail, also known as the Thai Welcome Drink.
Sabai Sabai (Thai Welcome Drink)
1 1/2 oz. Mekhong (or another Thai spirit)
1 1/2 oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice
3/4 oz. simple syrup
several leaves of Thai basil
Smash or tear the basil leaves and put them plus all the other ingredients except the club soda into a shaker with ice. Shake vigorously 5-10 seconds, and pour into a chilled martini glass. Top off with club soda and garnish with a basil sprig or lemon twist. Cheers!
By Peg Kern