Technically not a wine review, or is it? Rượu Đế SuTi – LION 45 & Rượu Đế Ông Già – Old Man at the SuTi Craft Distillery were amazing.
As all Southern Women know, the way to keep the men in their life happy is to spoil them once in a while. We were headed back to the DFW area after an errand took us south and I’m sure he thought I was giving directions to yet another winery. But rather than drag darling husband out to yet another vineyard on a Friday afternoon when we’re playing hooky from work, I surprised him with SuTi Craft Distillery in Kennedale, Tx.
Technically both the “Lion 45” and “Old Man” are hard liquor – and thus don’t qualify as wine – I still had to review them as I was actually surprised how much I liked them.
First a little history – they are the only distillery in Texas (and in the US) to make authentic/traditional Vietnamese rice liquor. Owned by Suy Dinh and Tien Ngo they combined first names to get the name of the Distillery – SuTi. [It’s said Sue Tea in a southern accent…]
Rượu Đế SuTi – has the scent of a Sake. Which, yes is a bit of an insult to this Vietnamese liquor but that’s the best description I have for you – since if I said it smelled of sweet fermented rice most people would have no clue. But basically sugar and vanilla hit the nose and it’s one of those that I could smell all day. The taste was super spicy on my tongue – but not in a bad way, I just can’t place the tongue tingling flavor. If one takes the philosophy of wine into account and you know you like it when you can’t wait to take another sip – then this is a Saturday/Special Occasion wine. It’s a sipping liquor. Rượu (said roux or roo) translates from Vietnamese into liquor. Tien explained that Rượu basically translates to moon shining.
Tien was an amazing host as he served us and explained the history of the distillery and how the Rượu was made along with the history of rice liquor in Vietnam. If you think the 1920s in the US was bad, when Vietnam was a French colony (French Indonesia), the Vietnamese were not allowed to make or drink liquor so they would distill it in the middle of large fields hidden in mazes of tall grass. As Tien said part of the name translates to essentially “king grass” – meaning the tall grasses that once hid the production.
Lion 45 is made with long-grain Texas rice grown in the Beaumont area, and is 90 proof. I’d liken the taste to a good rye, and while I was told I could mix it – I wouldn’t. It really should be sipped.
Rượu Đế Ông Già – This one is made with Louisiana Jasmine rice and is much milder and softer than the Lion 45. It’s sweeter and less spicy – so those who prefer a vodka will prefer this one. It still has a bit of a sake scent, but not as pronounced. Darling Husband said he could taste the jasmine influence, but sadly, I could not.
When they started the distillery, Tien and Suy had “old” Vietnamese men taste the liquor to make sure it was as authentic as they remembered, since neither of them was old enough to drink when they left Vietnam. Thus the name of this version of Rượu.
Tien failed to tell me that this just won 2022 Gold Medal & Best in Category Awards from American Distilling Institute’s 2022 International Spirits Competition. I learned that from their Facebook page.
Tien was also kind enough to give us a tour of the distillery itself and explain the entire process, from cooking the rice (about a day), to fermenting it (about 6 days), to distilling it. They only distill the rice liquor once – unlike a whiskey or vodka that is usually distilled multiple times. But they follow the traditional process of discarding the head, bottling the heart, and discarding the tail. What do they do with the leftover rice “mash” you ask? Great question! They send it to a local cattle ranch for feed. You can bet those are some happy cows, since they can extract all but 1% of the alcohol from the mash. You can see some pictures of the distillery below my final thoughts.
There is a wine connection!
Amusingly, spelling it rượu Đế SuTi without the capital R – Google translated it to “Wine Emperor.” So, with a lower case r it’s rượu – wine.
However, while there Tien also let me try their mulled rice wine made with black rice, which they create using the same process as a port. It’s not available yet and it was AMAZING! The color was beautiful somewhere between a apricot and peach center to a soft strawberry depending on how the light hit it, but looked like a tawny port in the bottle. I cannot wait for this to come out at the end of the year. It has a spicy scent but a smooth sweet flavor – almost like summer cherries and peaches – not cold but warm, fresh from the orchard. It’s sugar forward, but it has the right balance of sweetness. Again, another special occasion wine – like date night in front of the fireplace.
And for those of you who don’t care for sweet wines or rice liquor, they do make a rice whiskey – but they are sold out so you have to add yourself to the waiting list.
Unfortunately, you can only purchase on site at the distillery, and they cannot ship – even within Texas. So, if you find yourself in the DFW area, this is well worth the detour from Highway 20 just south of Fort Worth. Check them out at: 528 W. Kennedale Parkway Kennedale, TX 76060 (website)