What Is Lao-Lao?

Lee Johnson

Lao-lao is a type of clear rice whiskey made in Laos. It is made by many distilleries across the country and is amongst the least expensive alcoholic drinks that can be purchased in Laos. Lao-lao can vary in strength from around 40 to 45 percent alcohol. The drink is created when rice is steamed and then combined with yeast and water to make whiskey, which takes around 20 days to brew. One famous location where the whiskey is made is Whiskey Village, which is located near Luang Prabang, in the northern part of Laos.

Lao-lao comes in different colors, such as red, and can be mixed with non-alcoholic beverages.
Lao-lao comes in different colors, such as red, and can be mixed with non-alcoholic beverages.

Alcohol made from rice is common in many Asian countries, with rice wine and rice whiskey being two popular varieties. Laos is located in southeast Asia, between Thailand, China, Vietnam, and Cambodia, and is the home of lao-lao whiskey. It is generally available at most restaurants, bars, and roadside shops, and is often the cheapest form of alcohol available.

The clear whiskey known as lao-lao comes from Laos.
The clear whiskey known as lao-lao comes from Laos.

Most lao-lao whiskey is clear in color and has a very mild taste. There is generally a faint whiskey flavor, but this isn’t as pronounced or noticeable as it is in most whiskeys. This makes it a popular drink for mixing with non-alcohol beverages. Laotian people will often drink the whiskey neat, however. Some lao-lao whiskey can be different colors, such as yellow and red.

The simplicity of making lao-lao means that many different distillers across Laos produce it. Some varieties are bottled and made by larger distillers, but most is made in very small-scale operations. Smaller distillers who make lao-lao may just use a plastic bottle or even a plastic bag to distribute the whiskey. One large area for distilling rice whiskey is Whiskey Village, however, which is located just outside of Luang Prabang, one of Laos’s most popular tourist destinations. Tourists can visit Whiskey Village on most arranged tours of Pak Ou Caves, a common feature on Luang Prabang sightseeing trips.

Rice is steamed and then placed into a container to form the base of lao-lao. After this, yeast is added to help the mixture produce alcohol, and then around a liter and a half of water is added. The container is then covered over and the mixture is left to brew for around 20 days. The simplicity of making lao-lao is one possible cause for its widespread availability across Laos. Most cheap bottles can be found in Vientiane, the country’s capital.

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