When it comes to rum production, Cambodia might not be the first country that you’d use in the same sentence. But Cambodian rum is very much a thing, and a pretty awesome thing at that. This is thanks to the Samai Distillery.
Based in Phnom Penh, the distillery is producing some of the most unique rum to be found anywhere in the world and one such example is the intriguing Kampot Pepper. Spicy, layered and graceful, this drink is a perfect introduction into the growing world of Cambodian rum.
Samai is the Khmer word for modern and represents a new generation of rum producers that are exploring new frontiers and flavours. The distillery is the brainchild of two Venezuelans Antonio Lopez and Daniel Pacheco, who went to high school together and reconnected years later in Cambodia.
Like the creation of any great concept, the idea for Samai started in a bar, while Lopez and Pacheco were throwing around ideas about what Cambodian rum could be like if it was made. That night of drunken genius became the catalyst for something special and in 2014, Samai opened its doors.
Opening a distillery came with a certain set of hurdles. At the time, people in Cambodia didn’t have much knowledge about rum and Samai embarked on an education programme through regular tastings and workshops.
Fast forward and Samai has developed a great reputation for producing high-quality rums with diverse characteristics and the Kampot Pepper is definitely the jewel in the crown.
The production of this rum is as unique as the brand itself. Kampot pepper is like the Champagne of peppers, in the sense that it’s got a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status and can only be made in the Kampot region of Cambodia. But the pepper isn’t the only intriguing thing about the drink. The production method is unusual as well.
The base of the Kampot Pepper rum is the Samai Gold rum, which is made from molasses produced from locally grown Koh Kong sugarcane. A three-month maceration process happens, with the pepper imparting a subtle red colour and unsubtle spiciness in the liquid.
Next comes a vapour infusion technique, where Samai re-distil the rum in two 60L copper alembic pot stills and use a basket of Kampot peppers to let the alcohol vapours move through for more flavour absorption.
The final stage involves taking the best cuts from the maceration and the vapour infusion and blending them to get the bottled product.
From the beginning, there’s a lot going on with the rum. The scent of fennel and caramel mix in an unusual cloud of vegetal and sweet goodness. The spice comes in on the first sip, punchy, but not overpowering. Flavours of tomato, coriander, chili pepper and burnt biscuit fight for attention. The tomato wins.
Another level of spice hits the back of the throat, providing a balanced quality that doesn’t overstay its welcome. It’s like tasting several different peppers at the same time but then you’ve got to remind yourself that it’s only one. Then you got for a second sip. A third. A fourth and everything evens out.
The Kampot Pepper has a lot of underlying grace to it. The elegant spicy and aromatic qualities exist in harmony with each other. A velvety texture. Supple body. Great finish. My kind of rum.
Nose: Fennel, caramel, cardamom
Mouthfeel: Tomato, coriander, chili pepper, burnt biscuit
If she were alive today, the notorious pirate Ching Shih would’ve enjoyed a bottle of Samai Kampot Pepper. Discover the other rums she’d have her in her collection.