They may look sniggeringly camp, decorated as they are with parades of
buff, semi-naked men, but there is nothing effeminate about Cambodia’s
punch-packing muscle wines
Photo by: KYLE SHERER
Golden Muscle Liquor, Special Muscle Wine and Wrestler Red Wine have a parade of buff men on their labels.
Cambodian-made "muscle" wines, festooned with inspiring images of muscular men, promise to make imbibers stronger, more energetic and healthier - and they certainly pack a punch.
The parade of demented-looking, semi-naked and extremely buff men formed by the logos of Golden Muscle Liquor, Special Muscle Wine and Wrestler Red Wine makes the bottom shelf of a Cambodian liquor store look like the weightlifting room in a maximum security prison.
It's a lineup that fills many Westerners with dread.
Anecdotes abound detailing the graphic consequences of drinking cheap Cambodian hooch. One expat swears that after trying Special Muscle Wine, his friend blacked out for 12 hours and regained consciousness in a strange new bed, next to a strange new partner. Other expats voice concerns about the content and preparation of the brews.
Whether or not there's any basis to the myths, most Siem Reap bar owners don't provide the heavier Khmer liquors, with the exception of Cambodian Mekong Whiskey.
But the bottles abound in corner stores, and though prices may vary, as will side effects, this is what the more adventurous alcoholic can expect.
Special Muscle Wine goes for $3 for a 630-millilitre bottle. The murky black drink has an alcohol volume of 35 percent and tastes strongly of soy sauce, making it an exceptional companion to a platter of spring rolls. However, it is not recommended that romantic types share Special Muscle Wine over a candlelit meal as, in the words of one tuk tuk driver, "If you get it near a flame, whoosh!"
According to bottle store owners, Special Muscle Wine is popular with Cambodian men. "It's good if you want to drink, then sleep," said one.
The description of the wine on the bottle and on the website of its company, Lao Hang Heng Wine, puts forward more sensational claims, including, "It is particularly effective in alleviating rheumatism and fatigue", "while consumed in large quantity does not cause a hangover", and "consumers look fresh, healthier and younger".
The secret behind its potency is apparently "deer's antler and many precious Chinese herbs".
Claims of bestowing fantastical gifts are not uncommon on the Cambodian liquor shelf - OK Wine simply has the words "Power Orgasm Happiness Brightness" written down the side. It also has the disclaimer "Everything done within 7 days", which sounds more like a vaguely-worded threat than a jazzy slogan.
The upmarket twin to Special Muscle Wine is Golden Muscle Liquor, which is produced by the same company. Though it has a near-identical sales pitch and list of ingredients, Golden Muscle Liquor is slightly stronger at 40 percent, and far more expensive at $10.50. The first noticeable difference between Special Muscle Wine and its more expensive sibling is that the latter has little flakes of debris swirling around the bottom of the bottle, which, judging by the list of ingredients, could be anything from lingchi to deer antler.
Golden Muscle Liquor is less reminiscent of soy sauce, and closer in taste to a strong Western alcohol, like methylated spirits.
Rounding off the macho drink list is Wrestler Red Wine, which is the weakest of the three with a 20 percent alcohol volume, but also the one with the most outrageously pumped logo, possibly as compensation.
A 700ml bottle of Wrestler Red goes for $1, and promises a delicious concoction distilled from sugar cane and grapes under the supervision of a "foods technologist".
The result is an easily-swillable drink that tastes like warm sugar water, and is closer to the energy juices popular with sports players than a merlot.