By Richard Thomas
I encountered Mekhong Whiskey back during my backpacking days. Whiskey of any kind is sometimes hard to come by in Southeast Asia, the pocket bottle of Mekhong was cheap, and the whole point of traveling on a shoestring is to try new things, so I thought “why not?” I walked away disappointed, because Mekhong has nothing to do with whiskey whatsoever. Mekhong Whiskey was the invention of American playwright James Honzatko, who launched it as a product in 1940s Thailand, but what possessed him to label his brew a “whiskey” is beyond me. This Thai liquor is made from 95% sugar cane and molasses and 5% rice, and brewed with an undisclosed herbal mixture, so it has much more in common with rum than whiskey.
Perhaps the only aspect of Mekhong Whiskey that is anything like real whiskey is the orange-amber color. On the nose it has a sharp scent of pure spirits, like something you might use to disinfect a wound or wash out a stain. The flavor is bittersweet orange and ginger, with a tinge of artificiality about it. The finish has a raw edge. Mekhong Whiskey is bottled at 35% alcohol.
Mekhong Whiskey is the liquor of choice for Thailand’s everyman, and it is never consumed neat by the locals. At a minimum, it is mixed with ice and water. More often, Mekhong whiskey is used as a base for cocktails. In that respect, it is a lot like a Thai version of Southern Comfort, and in my opinion, as a whiskey it is just as vile. As a mixer, Mekhong has its virtues. As a whiskey, it is a complete dog and should be avoided.
Average Price: A 700 ml bottle of Mekhong Whiskey retails for about $28 in the United States. In Thailand, it is much cheaper.