Texas has enjoyed a boom in distilleries in recent years, focused primarily on making whiskey. That's why SuTi Craft Distillery is such a special one-of-a-kind. This newly opened distillery in Kennedale, near Fort Worth, is the first in Texas, and possibly even the U.S., to specialize in rượu đế, an authentic Vietnamese traditional rice liquor.
The most well known rice-based alcoholic beverage is Japanese sake. Sake is comparable to wine, with an alcohol content at about 14 percent.
What SuTi is doing is more comparable to spirits, with a higher alcohol content of 40 to 45 percent ABV.
Rice liquor has been distilled in Vietnam for centuries — but only informally, as an at-home project, like moonshine. About a decade ago, the rice liquor category began to emerge as a global trend when distilleries in Vietnam began to turn it into a business.
SuTi is from Suy Dinh and Tien Ngo — "Su" + "Ti" — two Vietnamese natives and friends who emigrated here after the Vietnam War, joining a large population of Vietnamese immigrants in the Kennedale/Arlington area.
They opened the distillery on November 23 in Kennedale near the center of town, where they're making two products:
- "Old Man," an 80-proof rice liquor
- "Lion 45," a 90-proof rice liquor
"This kind of liquor is widely popular in Vietnam," Ngo says. "We like to drink, and we didn't see anything like this, anywhere in the country."
Ngo is an architect and Dinh is an engineer. They spent a few years in development until they arrived at a product that pleased everyone who tried it.
They make everything onsite, from rice grown in Texas and Louisiana. "We make it 'from rice to glass,'" he says.
Their facility is at 528 W. Kennedale Pkwy., in what was originally a modest home and also, at one point, a tavern. They added a new building with a production operation as well as a tasting room. They're taking a "craft" approach by making small batches.
The flavor is subtle, but unlike vodka, it does have a flavor.
"It's more like white dog, it's a white whiskey, but it does have a delicate flavor with a hint of rice," Ngo says. "We age it for about a month, but it's not aged in barrels, so it's clear."
You can sip it solo or use it in your favorite cocktail. At their tasting room, which is open Monday-Saturday afternoons, they serve free tastes of up to two ounces. Visitors can also buy bottles, priced from $35-$42, although purchase is limited to two bottles per month.
"We can only sell it here," he says. "We're getting requests from around the country, but we aren't allowed to ship, so it's really special for people who live in this area."
One of the things they're most proud of is their role as emissary for the rice liquor tradition.
"You see Vietnamese food everywhere, but not this beverage," he says. "We're hearing from young people who appreciate that we're putting it on the map."