The other day, the BBC published a fascinating story about North Korea’s newest invention – consequence-free alcohol. Apparently, the hermit kingdom combined glutinous rice wine and ginseng in proportions described as "suave" and claimed to have achieved something magical. Alcohol without hangovers? This was something I had to try. But since I'm not silly enough to visit Kim Jong Un in person (because that always goes swell for us Americans), I would likely remain forever deprived.
Enter rượu nếp.
Rượu nếp is the Vietnamese version of glutinous rice wine. It's rice that's been wrapped in banana leaves and left to ferment with yeast. It ranges from a pudding-like consistency to something recognizable as liquor, and it's all knock-you-down strong at 30-40% alcohol by volume. Việt Nam's grocery stores carry shelves of it, and a surprising percentage has been infused with ginseng. It's not advertised as suave or magical, but it's as close as I'm going to get.
So it's guinea pig time once again, now featuring alcohol! Buckle in, folks!
There were a number of varieties, and naturally I went for the classiest. The bottle was plastic; I couldn't break it in my enthusiasm. The contents were made using "Japanese Technology" (I know because I google-translated the label). And it was the cheapest thing on the shelf by a very wide margin. Unsettlingly wide, actually. But hey! Experimentation without ruining our pocket books! The best of both worlds!
Time for a sniff test.
It was like someone poured rubbing alcohol on a potted plant. But I was going to do this. I was excited for this. I poured a glass.
It looked like a urine sample. But I'd come so far. I figured I might as well go the distance. I took a sip.
Hm... yeah. Between the earthy flavor of the ginseng and the raw alcohol burn, it tasted like a farmer's sadness. So I drank some more. (No, I never learned not to stick my hand on the stove, either.)
Erin was inspired to go arty with the photography. The results either looked like a PSA on the dangers of mixing alcohol and stupidity...
...or the kind of dark advertising that would feature in the glossy magazines of hell.
"For the sad times."
"When you just don't hate yourself enough."
"Because we all need to cry sometimes."
But finally, I wrestled the camera away from Erin. It was her turn to try the magical dirt nectar. Reluctantly, she raised the glass to her lips...
I will say that my wife had remarkable self control. She managed to make it all the way to the sink before she spat it out.
So it looks like Kim Jong Un's claims might be true after all. Because there's no way you could ever get enough of this down to cause a hangover.
PS: Don't let this post discourage you. Rượu nếp is a very popular drink in Việt Nam, and it can be very tasty. But if you want to try it yourself, I'd recommend spending more than $0.90. And avoid the ginseng, unless you enjoy the taste of liquid dirt.