Bottled at 80 proof, these are robust, flavorful rums reminiscent of the British-style rums of the Caribbean. During our visit, we tasted Samai’s gold rum. Richly colored, with integrated oak and a mellow flavor, you’d never guess that it had spent just over a year in casks. A limited edition rum aged in Pedro Ximenez sherry casks picked up tons of dried fruit and leather, as well as an almost inky mahogany pigmentation. In late 2016, Samai released a new addition to their product line: a rum infused with Kampot pepper, the Champagne of peppercorns. It sold out within six weeks, and a new release is slated for Spring 2017. “Kampot pepper is one of the most aromatic and delicious peppers in the world, and it is strictly a Cambodian product,” explains Antonio. Only the province of Kampot (pronounce “cahmpo”) in southern Cambodia can lay claim to producing the Kampot pepper, desired around the world—especially in France—for its remarkably pungent, aromatic flavor. “We work exclusively with La Plantation,” says Antonio, “which is one of the biggest and most advanced Kampot pepper farms. The pepper makes a rum that is fresh and spicy, with a long, sweet finish giving hints of guava and eucalyptus. It’s really amazing.” Although the craft cocktail movement is in its infancy in Cambodia, the trend is growing. Phnom Penh, the largest city in the country, is home to a handful of bars and restaurants serving craft cocktails, as well as one craft-spirit-focused liquor store. Samai’s distillery and tasting room has quickly become one of the city’s most happening event spaces. On Thursday nights, Samai transforms its tasting room into a bar, inviting guest bartenders to make craft cocktails with a uniquely Cambodian twist. Regular special events like concerts, tastings, and parties bring in a heady mix of tourists, expats, and young Khmer excited by the chance to taste a homegrown spirit. Samai, like the country it calls home, is growing fast. It was recently named a “Rum Brand to Watch” by The Spirits Business, an international spirits website, which also reported that Samai had lined up between $550,000 and $700,000 in investment by the end of 2016. The company is starting to eye expansion to other international markets, especially within Asia. Antonio and Daniel are about to place an order for a new, larger column still that will allow Samai to ramp up production. And they’ve begun searching for additional investors to help provide the financing they need to get to the next level. Outside Samai’s walls, motos whizz down the main drag, cargo racks laden with cases of bottled water and bundles of watercress and cilantro. Furniture stores roll up their doors, letting the warm, humid air flow into their dusty workshops. Kids in crisp uniforms hustle off to school, lunchboxes in hand. Tourists amble down the sidewalk. And Antonio fires up his still. There’s so much to do, but Phnom Penh’s contagious energy makes it easy to feel like anything is possible.
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Samai Distillery is located in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Visit www.samaidistillery.com for more information.
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