In 2018, I was invited to a wedding in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I had never been to Asia, and had been hoping to visit Cambodia for years. Unfortunately, the wedding was just a few days before Christmas which meant a very quick five-day trip to get back home to my family for the holiday. I arrived in Phnom Penh on December 17 and went straight to the Sofitel, where the wedding was to be held. After a tremendous luncheon to celebrate my arrival, I made my way to the lobby bar to discover a beautiful gin cart and get my first sip of Cambodian gin.
Seekers Mekong Dry Gin (gin no. 031) is truly an expression of Cambodia. Made using spring water from the Kumpot Mountain and brought to life with juniper, angelica root, and native botanicals, it is unlike anything else in my collection. The flavors are so unique, it is hard to describe the taste. I know lemongrass, coriander seed, jasmine, pomelo, and cassia bark, but I am much less familiar with pandan, kaffir lime leaf, Khmer basil, palm seed, green orange, or galangal. It is exceptionally dry with an earthiness unfamiliar to me. The flavor is mild, light on juniper but almost woody. There is a little spice when taken on the rocks, but mellows out when mixed. It is best enjoyed simply, with tonic or in a martini. Adding too much will disguise the Cambodian nature that makes it so special. The bottle tasted is numbered: bottle 307 / batch 05.
My next two days were spent sightseeing. Phnom Penh is an amazing city and my gracious and patient guide took me to the major tourist attractions in between finding me outfits, plural, for the wedding. Knowing that my next two days were going to be spent attending the ceremonies, I was determined to track down a bottle of Seekers to bring home before it was too late. I visited four different stores looking for it without success. Tired, and maybe a little dejected, I decided I would try to talk my new friends at the Sofitel into selling me a bottle.
On the morning of the 20th the wedding celebration began. The first part of the ceremony took place at the family home. As it was wrapping up, I was told we had three hours to get to the hotel. The brother of the groom suggested that we try to get to the Seekers distillery before heading over. I couldn’t say no. He drove me over but we couldn’t find a place to park. He kindly let me out and I scooted down an alley blocked by construction vehicles, while he circled the block in heavy traffic.
I was greeted by Tania, one of the founders. She guided me through the small but modern space, showing me the tiny, original pot still they started with and the not-very-big still they use now. But one thing really caught my eye, three bottles of purple gin on a high display shelf. It turns out that they had made a special batch for the other founder’s 50th birthday and they were not for sale. Now I am not a quitter.
Tania went to get Marco, the other founder, and after explaining my love of gin and my ever growing collection, he was happy to let me buy a bottle. We even posed together with it. In the photo, you can see the other two bottles that were on display as well as my sandals. In Cambodia, you can wear a suit and tie and sandals and no one even notices. Both Marco and Tania were wonderful hosts and it was such a great experience to meet them, even if I was rushing to get back to the wedding.
Jason Kong Mekong Strength Dry Gin (gin no. 032) is the most prized gin in my collection. The bottle I have is actually numbered bottle 001 / batch 01. I know that at one point mine was the only bottle in the United States. Since my visit they have made another batch and it is now available for sale so another gin tourist might have brought one back, but I bet it doesn’t say #marcosbig50 on the label!
I don’t know very much about what is in Jason Kong Gin. I do know that the purple coloring comes from butterfly pean and hibiscus. It actually looks almost blue when first poured, but ten becomes purpler with the addition of a little tonic. Like the Mekong Dry, it is light on juniper, mild, and exceptionally dry. However, the contemporary flavor feels more familiar with floral notes and a supple, rich quality.
The rest of the trip was a blast, a day and a half of the most elaborate wedding I have ever been to and of course a few more Seekers and tonic at the Sofitel. I gave the groom a bottle of Seekers as a wedding gift. Then I headed back home with two of the most unique bottles of gin in my luggage. Seekers now makes a few more spirits, including Mekong Gold Gin, an aged expression of their flagship gin. I guess that means I have to go back to Cambodia one of these days.