Makers of homemade Thai rice whiskey once plied their craft in jungle hideouts and farmyard shacks, concealed from the gaze of police officers threatening to arrest them and seize their makeshift stills. \nBut what was once a furtive -- and criminal -- enterprise has been legalized and even touted by the government as a source of revenue that could help lift Thailand from its economic doldrums and enrich poor villagers. \nAppealing to the entrepreneurial instincts of rural moonshine peddlers, the government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra legitimized the trade a year ago, urging fermented fruit and rice wine producers to apply for licenses. \nAmong them was Sawai Nuengsamphan, a 42-year-old former welder and gas station attendant whose family produced the sweet alcoholic tipple illegally for decades, suppling spirits for community weddings, funerals and ordinations. \nOver the years, Sawai's grandfather was arrested several times for distilling "sato," the sweet and pungent brew very popular in rural Thailand. \nBut when the laws were relaxed last November, Sawai envisioned his family's cottage industry transforming into a runaway large-scale business with a clientele spanning the globe. \n"I have a dream that foreigners will drink this," he said. "The first place is Japan because the taste is like sake. Also in Singapore and Taiwan because there are Thai workers there." \nWith a 2 million baht (US$45,700) loan, he founded Mahamit (Great Friend) Thai Wine. Producing only 120 bottles a day when it opened in April, it now turns out about 6,000 bottles in the tin-roof distillery in Rayong province, 145km south of Bangkok. \n"We are pioneers, the first to sell legally in Rayong province," he said, removing the lid from a plastic tub of fermented rice and herb mash, sniffing its alcoholic aroma. \nNearby, workers balanced aluminum vats on a dozen gas burners to boil rice, the key ingredient in sato. Mixed with water and sugar and flavored with ginger and other herbs, the rice ferments for 20 days to become alcoholic. \n"This liquor has been around for hundreds of years," Sawai said. "But it bothered me to see sato sold in plastic bags. I wanted to see it on the dining table." \nFilled in sterilized beer bottles with hand-affixed labels, Sawai's hooch sells quickly across Thailand at 25 baht a bottle, particularly in the northeast, where drinking such firewater is an honored pastime. \n"The first people who tried my sato said I was crazy because villagers can make this and why would they by it from me?" he said. "I told them everybody can make soup, so why do people buy it from the market?" \nIn legalizing the industry, the government has imposed a 25 percent to 30 percent tax on each bottle. Still, Sawai's profits have been rich enough to pay for a new Toyota pick-up truck and construction work on a second factory. \nThe government hopes that while some people continue to make hooch illegally to avoid taxes, many like Sawai will see the benefit of running a licensed business that will allow them to market their product more widely. \nThe earlier ban on local liquor production was meant to protect a monopoly on the whiskey market in Thailand held by Sura Maharas, for years the sole holder of a government concession to produce cheap rice whiskey. \nOfficials say the newly licensed producers are aiming for a different market -- the poorer rural residents and, eventually, overseas consumers. "So far we've made about 68 million baht (US$1.6 million), from January until now" in taxes and license fees, said Sujarit Patchimnun, the head of the Interior Ministry's community development department. \n"The main thing is to help the economy, to make money. We don't want to lose resources we already have," he said. \nLocally produced rice whiskey must contain less than 15 percent alcohol, according to the Ministry of Finance. Licensed whiskey makers are required to have their products examined regularly by the excise department. \nSo far, licenses have been given to about 450 producers, whom the government describes as "farm cooperatives," meaning they are certified village residents who have created a cottage industry and generated employment. \nAbout 500 more individual hooch makers remain unlicensed and will continue to be targeted by authorities unless they form cooperatives. Until then, if convicted they face a fine of up to 5,000 baht (US$110) for each infraction and six months in jail.
‘HERO OF THE ERA’: President Tsai Ing-wen expressed deep sadness at Lee’s passing, and told the government to assist his family with all their needs Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) passed away at 7:24pm yesterday at Taipei Veterans General Hospital. He was 97 years old. The hospital stated the cause of death as septic shock and multiple organ failure. Lee had been hospitalized there since February, when he choked on a mouthful of milk at home. He was later diagnosed with pulmonary infiltrates and aspiration pneumonia. The hospital said that Lee had been treated with antibiotics, but that his health had not improved, as his advanced age and diabetes had inhibited his immune system and led to recurring infections. During his hospitalization, Lee underwent daily kidney dialysis, which removed
‘WEAK POSITIVE’: The man arrived in Taiwan in May and was quarantined for two weeks, Chen Shih-chung said, adding that he might be infected a long time ago The government is considering tightening mask-wearing rules again in light of a potential domestic COVID-19 infection, Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) said yesterday. The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) confirmed seven new COVID-19 cases, six of which are imported. The other case involves a Belgian engineer who entered Taiwan on May 3 and remained in quarantine until May 17, said Chen, who heads the CECC. Although the source of infection has yet to be identified, the case could end the nation’s record of not having any domestic cases in the previous 110 days. The Belgian, in his 20s, is a technician
RECEIVING TREATMENT: President Tsai Ing-wen, Vice President William Lai and Premier Su Tseng-chang visited former president Lee Teng-hui yesterday morning Taipei Veterans General Hospital yesterday rebutted speculation that former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) had died a day earlier, saying that he was weak, but receiving treatment. The hospital said the 97-year-old Lee was not in good condition and needed ongoing care, adding that if there are any changes in his condition, it would make those public. The comments came after rumors emerged online on Tuesday that Lee had died after being hospitalized since early February. Soon after the unsubstantiated rumors emerged, reporters started flocking to the hospital seeking confirmation. Lee was admitted to Taipei Veterans General Hospital on Feb. 8 after choking while drinking
THAI CASE UPDATE: Twenty-nine close contacts of the worker have been tested with two types of tests, including 18 dorm mates, with 28 negative results so far Five imported cases of COVID-19, four from the Philippines and one from Hong Kong, were reported yesterday, bringing the total confirmed cases in Taiwan to 467, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) said yesterday. The four returning from the Philippines were on the same flight, and the local health department has identified 15 people who had direct contact with them — including 10 passengers in the two rows in front or behind them, who have been put under 14-day home isolation, and five crew members, who will practice 14-day self-health management, said Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Deputy Director-General Chuang Jen-hsiang