Drink of the Week: Sông Cái Vietnamese Gin - Imbibe Magazine Subscribe + Save

Drink of the Week: Sông Cái Vietnamese Gin

A good friend recently asked what sorts of spirits I’m most interested in these days. And I quickly replied that I’m most drawn to the ones that communicate a clear sense of place. I prefer those that express the flavors of a region or the traditions and sentiments of the people who make it. I rattled off some examples: agave spirits from Mexico, Japanese whisky, and gin. The latter stirred a raised eyebrow in my companion.

How does gin express a time and place or part of the world where it comes from? Through its botanicals! As we reported in the May/June 2019 issue of Imbibe, gin distillers are telling new global stories through the ingredients they choose to feature in the botanical profile.

That’s why, like postcards collected from far-flung locales around the world, I always seek out a local gin when I visit somewhere new. A treasure hunt led me to a cabinet stuffed with gems like Samphire-stoked gin from England, gin that sizzles with sansho and yuzu from Japan, and a Southern California version that shines with local sagebrush and yerba santa. Each offers a taste of where it came from and how it was made. And they evoke a fond memory or promise future adventure if it’s from a place I haven’t yet traveled. It’s the reason I find gin to be one of the more exciting spirits on the global map right now.

And unsurprisingly, I delighted in tasting Sông Cái Distillery’s dry gin from Vietnam. To make this expressive spirit, distiller-founder Daniel Nguyen—a California-born Vietnamese-American—partnered with foragers and farmers in Northern Vietnam. Together they developed a recipe starring 14 ingredients native to the country. They include green turmeric, jungle pepper, and heirloom pomelo (plus juniper, the only one not sourced within the country). The gin is distilled in direct-fire copper alembic pot stills and bottled at a 45% ABV.

Its name translates to “Mother River” to celebrate the relationship Vietnamese people have cultivated with the land. And the gin tastes lush and verdant. It blossoms with flavors of bright bittersweet lemon peel and cool, crisp juniper berries. A riptide of cardamom spice finishes in a dry woody veneer.

I have yet to visit Vietnam. But with a crisp Gimlet or an ice-cold G&T made with Sông Cái, if I close my eyes, I can imagine this must be what it tastes like to explore the country’s highland jungles. $35.99, songcaidistillery.com

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