You’ve had whisky made from barley, corn, rye, and wheat—but have you tasted rice whisky? Several distilleries in Japan and the United States are distilling with rice to create unique and intriguing new whiskies. While the Japanese variants use koji, a kind of mold, American craft distillers working with rice are drawing on the traditions of Chinese baijiu, Laotian lao-lao, and other Southeast Asian rice spirits.
Rice to Riches—Taste the Variety of Flavors Found in Rice Whisky
Aromas of banana bread batter, wet clay, and sugar cookies give way to a fresh, mineral palate with poached pear, dried ginger, and chestnut honey. The finish is delicate—vanilla, cooked pears, and savory pie crust.
Ohishi Brandy Cask—Japan
A delicate, floral nose full of nectarines, berries, and plums. The flavor is nutty, with raisins, raspberry jam, and a rancio note that continues through the leathery, fruity finish.
Fukano 2017 Edition—Japan
Fruity and earthy on the nose, the creamy palate is a tug of war between sweet and savory with a clean, citrus finish packed with umami. Would pair well with dishes that don’t often go with whisky, like olives.
White Tiger Distillery—Stevensville, Maryland
Itsara Ounnarth, who emigrated from Laos to the U.S. as a child, convinced his mother to teach him how to make traditional laoLao (literally “the alcohol of the Laotians”) from sticky rice. The high-proof unaged spirit is strong and spirituous, while the aged version, sold as laoLao Style whisky, has notes of umami and spice.
MÔtÔ Spirits—Brooklyn, New York
Hagai Yardeny journeyed by motorcycle through Southeast Asia, where he gained a taste for homemade rice spirit. Now he’s using California sweet rice to make unaged and roughly 10 month old whiskey in the distillery he co-founded next door to a motorcycle shop in Brooklyn.
Vinn Distillery—Portland, Oregon
The Ly family emigrated from Vietnam by way of China in the 1970s, and the five siblings use a seventh-generation family recipe for baijiu, a Chinese rice spirit, to craft their rice whiskey. Cooked Calrose rice ferments for several months with jiu qu, an enzyme and yeast blend, before being pot-distilled and aged for 3 years in new charred oak barrels.