Awhile back, we received an intriguing wooden crate from Vietnam. One that was nailed shut, required a crow bar to open and, much to our delight, contained six liqueurs that were heretofore unknown to us. Turns out, Son Tinh is producing 12 products ranging from clear spirits to herbal and fruit liqueurs. Each product begins with a sticky rice distillate, and from there, copper pot stills, ingredient infusions and barrel aging are employed to create the lineup. We sat down to taste through our six Son Tinh samples, starting with the lightest in color and moving toward the darkest. Here’s what happened.
Nep Phu Loc
Nep Phu Loc pours clear in the glass. On the nose it’s similar to shochu or even vodka, with some underpinnings of light corn whiskey. Flavors are mildly sweet — rice, vegetation, earth, baked bread — with some peppery spice on the finish. It’s clean, subtle, easy to sip and an all around pleasant introduction to the Son Tinh portfolio. We imagine this one will prove most useful in cocktails, but it’s plenty drinkable on its own. 38% ABV
Right on the bottle it says Passion Fruit Liqueur. We immediately got big, sour fruit aromas on the nose. We suppose that would be the passion fruit, but we tasted lots of candied tamarind, prunes, raisins and apples, plus some tannic tea and mild honey. It’s sticky sweet, and the finish lasts seemingly forever. This is flavorful, to be sure, but not a flavor we particularly enjoyed. 27% ABV
This herbal liqueur is comprised of 19 ingredients. It’s very bitter with flavors of gentian, eucalyptus and actual dirt, but there’s some underlying sweetness — predominately apples and burnt caramel. This is intense, even for amaro lovers like us, but it’s a fun alternative to your typical digestives. 38% ABV
This one’s an apricot liqueur, and it’s full of sweet apricots, like you’d expect. It’s also got a strong sour note, much like its passion fruit kin. In addition to that sourness, there’s a mild, vinegary astringency, plus hints of bitter orange rind. That initial kick of cloying sweetness turns drier toward the finish. 27% ABV
Our fifth competitor is a rose apple liqueur that’s made from the rare fruit of rose plants growing wild in Vietnam’s northern mountains. It’s like a perfumed bottle of concentrated apple juice. The apple character is most prominent, but it’s also accented by floral rose petals and red berries. Tao Meo is neither as sweet nor as sour as the fruit liqueurs above, and it’s an overall milder, more pleasant drink. 27% ABV
Whoa. In this, we’ve found the most bitter of the bunch. The Son Tinh website calls this digestif “stimulating and invigorating,” which seems an apt description. It’s intensely flavorful and tastes like a mix of jet black coffee, bitter herbs, earthy minerals and something like unripe artichokes and celery. There’s a sour fruit note here, but that plays second fiddle to the overwhelming bitterness. We’d safely call this one an acquired taste, and truth be told, we liked it better the more we had. There’s something about the mild fruit flavor that kept us coming back for more. What started as an exercise in masochism ended with some actual enjoyment, but this isn’t for the faint of heart (or constitution). 38% ABV
Tasting our way through the Son Tinh portfolio was a genuinely interesting drinking experience. It’s a fun insight into the Vietnamese palate, and it’s made us want to seek out other Asian liqueurs.
For now, Son Tinh liqueurs are available across Northern and Central Vietnam, as well as select outlets in Japan and the UK. Son Tinh is currently in the works to get its products into North America.