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Spirit of Vietnam: Two Vietnamese Americans create traditional rice liquor, only found in Kennedale, Texas

When Suy and Tien couldn't find rượu đế in the US, they decided to make it themselves. Their traditional Vietnamese rice liquor can only be bought at SuTi.

KENNEDALE, Texas — Suy Dinh and Tien Ngo listen to an old Vietnamese song over a glass of rượu đế. It's a traditional Vietnamese rice liquor that they haven't been able to find in the United States.

They looked for years, trying different liquors to find a similar taste. Nothing came close, so they decided to create it themselves in Kennedale, Texas. 

Suy and Tien took the first two letters of their names and created SuTi Craft Distillery. Their more than 40-year friendship seems to be the perfect business partnership.

"For traditional Vietnamese rice liquor, this is the first one ever made in the U.S.," said Tien. 

Credit: Photo Credit: David Ochoa

Suy is the mastermind behind the two rượu đế recipes at the distillery. 

Suy was 11 years old when his family immigrated to America after the war in 1975. "I would do everything that an American would do in high school and college," Suy said. He became an electrical and software engineer, making wine as a hobby. Decades later, he found his true passion making rice liquor. 

Tien, an architect by trade, is behind the design and atmosphere at SuTi Craft Distillery.

He beams with pride as a Vietnamese American. At 15 years old in 1980, Tien fled to the United States by himself. "I stayed back with my parents in Vietnam for another five years under Communists, and I was one of the boat people who came to the U.S. I came by myself," said Tien. "I very graphically, vividly remember everything at the boat. Very scary."

Because of his experiences, he is grateful for the life he's built, and for the business he and Suy started in the middle of a pandemic.

They've been working on SuTi Craft Distillery for several years, but opened the doors of the tasting room in November 2020.

The rice used to make the liquor comes from farms in South Texas and Louisiana. It takes them one day to cook the rice, five days to ferment, one day to distill, and a month-and-a-half to age the liquor. After each batch, they donate the leftover rice to a farm in Waxahachie to help feed the cattle. 

Suy and Tien always test the liquor to make sure it tastes like home.

"We make it to the liking of the young people here, but it also pleases the older people who say it reminds them of rượu đế when they were back in Vietnam," said Suy. 

Credit: Photo Credit: David Ochoa

One bottle is called Rượu Đế Ông Già, which means "old man rice liquor." And the other is called Rượu Đế SuTi -- Lion 45. Each has an alcohol content of 40 to 45 percent.

Every detail on the bottle is connected to their roots in Vietnam. For example, each bottle is tied with a piece of grass to remind them of the tall grass fields in Vietnam. 

They are excited to share rượu đế with North Texas and the United States. Suy and Tien hope people can enjoy a sip in their tasting room, hear some good stories, and take home a bottle or two of rượu đế. 

Credit: Photo by: David Ochoa