Koh Samui’s only craft distillery is set in a laid-back tropical paradise
Craft spirits only went from fringe to cool in the past couple of years, bringing small-batch labels to prominence across Thailand. For 15 years, though, Koh Samui has been ahead of the curve. Long before the trend took off, a distillery now known as Koh Samui Rum started producing small-batch spirits from local sugarcane in the island’s south-eastern nook.
The original operation, Magic Alambic was founded in 2003 by Elisa and Michel Gabrel, two retired fruit growers from Gers (Southern France), who had relocated to Thailand to produce spirits from the island’s native fruit. Unsuccessful, the couple started making rhum agricole, a kind of French Caribbean rum produced from fresh-squeezed sugarcane juice rather than molasses, and named their brand after the copper alembic still they had shipped over from Armagnac, France.
In 2014, a French expat named Ludovic Trantoul took over the distillery, rebranded it Koh Samui Rum, and otherwise kept on producing the same great spirits. Available in four flavours—orange, coconut, pineapple, and natural—the spirits come in at 40 proof and pack a wallop. The two most popular are the all-natural flavour, which showcases the quality of the Nakhon Sri Thammarat sugarcane it’s made from, and the coconut flavour. The latter derives a tropical aroma and extra layer of taste from the coconut meat it’s steeped with for months at a time.
Guests are invited to take a self-guided tour of the distillery. To be fair, the tour doesn’t really offer much in terms of experience: it’s pretty much gazing at a fire-engine red still (above right), and a few photographs of the folks in charge. Don’t expect any explanations, either—you’re on your own during the tour. You should visit Koh Samui Rum for other reasons, though.
The distillery occupies a parcel of land so far off the island’s main strip that “blink and you’ll miss it” doesn’t even apply. If you want to visit, you’ll have to rent a vehicle. As you pull up to a restaurant covered in coconut thatch, surrounded by a grove of towering coconut palms, you might start to feel the aura that attracted the Gabrels and Trantoul to Koh Samui.
On Sundays, stop by for the weekly BBQ. The feast is popular among the island’s expat community, especially its French population, all perhaps wistful for other islands as they devour fresh-cooked French and Caribbean dishes. While there, you can sample all four flavours of Koh Samui Rum (B60 per shot). Try them with the distillery’s excellent syrup, a proprietary blend of brown sugar, lime, and spices—a simple but perfect cocktail.
Bottles go for a mere B280-380. It’s worth it to buy a couple of bottles of the natural flavour, as well as some of the syrup, so you can make your own sundowners on the beach each afternoon.
By Craig Sauers