Lao-Lao: What is Laotian Rice Whisky?
Lao-Lao, nearly as ubiquitous a drink as the ever-popular Beer Lao, can be found all over Laos. It’s hard to say which drink is more popular, the official national beer, or the home-brewed sticky rice moonshine that’s brewed in every village and town from high up in the Laotian mountains to the lowland river valleys.
Lao-Lao, despite the way it’s written, isn’t just the same word written twice. “Lao”, with a falling tone, means “alcohol”; while “Lao”, with a rising tone, means “Laotian”. Literally, the drink’s name means “Laotian alcohol”.
Lao-Lao has been brewed for hundreds of years. Made from fermented and distilled sticky rice, this clear rice “whisky”, Lao-Lao is sometimes added to Beer Lao to strengthen it, and is almost always served to guests at a traditional Laotian meal.
Tourists don’t usually drink much Lao-Lao, although the brands sold at the supermarkets and convenience stores in the country are safe to drink. A bottle of Lao-Lao with a preserved scorpion or snake is a popular tourist souvenir, and for many villages, it’s a big source of tourist income.
Lao-Lao is super cheap, just a few thousand kip per bottle (a few dollars). The taste and alcohol content ranges wildly, but is often slightly yeasty and sweet, like a Japanese sake.