Samai Distillery is a favourite Thursday night spot for many Phnom Penh residents, and its owners have big plans in the works to expand their rum empire. Words by Erin Hale. Photography by Lucas Veuve.

samai-distillery-2Phnom Penh’s favourite brand of rum Samai is growing up. When the distillery, bar and showroom opened in 2015, it quickly became the venue to be seen at on a Thursday night, the only time it’s open to the public, and it could at times get uncomfortably packed.

Fast forward little more than a year, and Thursday are less crowded and a tad more refined.

For one, the menu has expanded to include more cocktails. One of the best is No Scruples Daiquiri ($6), closer to the original cocktail circa 1910 than the super sweet and fruity frozen daiquiri that has taken over most venues. It tastes similar to a sour minus the egg whites.

Original cocktail 21 Points ($5) presents a classier version of a rum and coke, and the classic Negroni de Caña ($6) remains on the menu. Patrons can now soak up cocktails with food as Samai has partnered up with Asian-fusion burger experts, Roots and Burgers, to serve favourites from a fitted-out food truck.

As much fun as Samai nights may be, its purpose is to produce rum. Venezuelan co-owner Daniel Pacheco hopes to improve the reputation of rum as a high-end alcohol worthy of appreciation.

“In most places around the world, rum is cheap, like Bacardi and Havana Club cocktails. For us, rum is the most premium thing you can have, so that’s what we really want to bring to Samai,” he says.

Pacheco and his two partners seem to be succeeding. Samai rum can now be found at 40 bars across Cambodia and for sale at several outlets.

To meet demand, they have increased production capacity from several hundred bottles to 1,000 a month by running the distillery for longer hours.

Once their ramped up supply ages properly, Samai is in the works to distribute rum to Singapore and Vietnam.

For now, the time is ripe to buy bottles Samai’s earlier batches as they are hitting the two-year mark, an important rum threshold. “People say that the equivalent of a 12-year-old whiskey is a two-year-old rum. It’s all about the ageing,” he says.

Ageing occurs when the wood breathes. When it gets hot it expands and the rum seeps into the wood; when it’s cold, it contracts and goes back out.zThe more change there is, the faster that happens and the faster the rum ages.

Samai’s is made with molasses from a Koh Kong sugar mill, and distilled on site at its showroom. As different barrels age, they are blended together to make the perfect rum.

From its original golden rum ($25 for 700mL), Samai now produces a Kampot pepper rum ($19 for 200 mL) and a darker Samai PX Limited Edition rum blended with sherry ($68 for 750 mL) which are available to buy.

9b Street 830, Phnom Penh.
Tel: 077 669 454.
Open Thursday from 6pm to 11.30pm.