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Around The Sun: Snake Wine

If you ever drink Vietnamese snake wine itís best not to look inside the bottle, as Steve Harrison reveals.

Vietnam produces itís own variations of what we consider liquors. They make a good whiskey that tastes just like Johnny Walker. Thereís another called Mekong which resembles an American Bourbon. Of course the Russians left a lingering taste for Vodka, which comes in many varieties and tastes good after being in the freezer overnight.

Most alcoholic drinks, I find, take a bit of getting used to. My first beer tasted awful. Whiskey can be quite off putting too, until the alcohol kicks in. Usually you have one drink, forcing it down. Yuk! The second drink tastes decidedly better. The third is still better. By the time you order the fourth, they have begun to slip down real easy. Your perception of the world changes. Words such as nectar come to mind.

To understand Vietnamese alcoholic tastes you you must try snake wine. I was in a bar in Hoi An with my mate Phil, who was paying his first visit to Vietnam. We had had a couple of beers and were playing killer pool with some backpacking Brits, along with a few Germans and Dutch. Killer pool is a game in which all can join. The players put a dollar each in the pot. Each player has three lives. You lose a life each time you fail to sink a ball.

Some bright spark had the notion that we should all drink shots of Vietnamese snake wine. Okay, I confess that I was the bright spark. A shot cost 10 cents. We all bought one and drank it. In all my life I had never tasted a ghastlier conconction. The others concurred. Maybe if we tried a second it would seem better. It didnít.

As the evening progressed the snake wine kept coming. Each drink was worse than the one before it. The effect of the alcohol could not mask the disgusting after-taste.
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As the game wound down and the evening drew to a close we were all talking in deep raspy voice, complaining of an itching at the back of the throat. The foul taste would not leave us be.

We decided to look inside a bottle of snake wine. Up to now we had only casually noted the big glass bottles containing dead snakes steeped in alcohol. The barman obliged our curiosity, removing the top from one of the heavy bottles so that we could gawp into it. That we saw there made us groan. Besides multitudes of coiled snakes there were seahorses and geckos.

But what made is feel really queasy was a fully-feathered dead crow. It had a defiant beak, piercing yes and its yellow legs were sticking up out of the jar. It looked like a museum exhibit preserved in formaldehyde. This was the jar containing the lquor we had been drinking all evening.

I must say that I have grown quite partial to the Vietnamese whiskey and rum. But snake wine? No, no, no! Never again!

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