Po Lo is a true Artisan distiller focusing on a folk spirit true to his roots in Door County Wisconsin. The Lo artisan distillery focuses on whiskey distilled from the sweet scented Jasmine Rice so well loved in the Hmong community and finally being recognized for it’s quality by those in the know. Po Lo has taken a tradition handed down to him by his mother and introduced it to a wider audience and indeed made the spirits world richer for the contribution. I personally would love to see more rice whiskey being produced as it is far underrepresented and underappreciated and comes from a long tradition.
Po, tell us a little about your background and about growing up around spirits production, how important was rice whiskey in your culture?
Ans: Growing up and being around when my mother was making rice spirits was always intriguing. I saw how passionate she was and how much love she had in just the art or distilling it. Primarily, my mother made it just for our own celebration among the men in our clan and community using a pot-n-wok type home made still. I never really appreciated the art and craft of making rice spirits until I was early in my 30’s. From then on, I wanted to preserve my mother’s knowledge of Hmong rice spirit making so I carefully took notes of it visually and asked as many questions as I can so that I won’t forget the process, raw materials, and procedures of distilling.
Rice spirits played a very important part in the Hmong culture in that in every celebration, get-to-gethers, rice spirts were always served with the men. It was our heritage and custom to have it upon every meeting of families and long lost friends.
I know you learned about the spirit and it’s production from your mother and subsequently named the product Yerlo after her correct?
Ans: Yes, I named it after my mother. She was the one who taught me the basics and methods. Meticulously she hand picked and hand made everything from scratch. It was my way of paying homage to her.
In traditional Hmong culture are the distillers commonly women and can you talk about the importance of women to the traditional alcohol production culture?
Ans: Commonly the women are the distillers of Hmong rice spirits. Sometimes there are a few men as well but majority are women because they had the time to do so at home while the men/husbands were mostly out working being the bread winners. Women were the ones who stayed home, cooked and cleaned and raising the children.
Can you tell us a little about the production methodology of Yerlo, I know it differs fairly substantially from a traditional grain mash, how long is fermentation, what type of yeast is used?
Ans: Yerlo production is unlike any other in that we create and make our very own yeasts from rice. Our main ingredient is rice and rice alone. Once our rice is cooked (est. around 500lbs) we allow them to cool and then mixed with our yeast that has been aged for 3 months. Once mixed, we ferment in our tanks (225 gallons) for 1 month. After 30 days, we then top off with cold water and start the 2nd stage of fermentation for the next 8-9 months.
How is the distillation accomplished? I believe traditionally an Alquatar type still was used, do you do a single pass distillation or double pot still?
Ans: Distillation is accomplished by using modern day pot stills…in my case, I used a 140L Carl Still. My products, Yerlo, is a “SINGLE PASS” distillation.
For those who have never tasted Rice whiskey can you give us a description of the flavor profile?
Ans: Yerlo Rice Spirits are high proof rice spirits that resemble the Hmong People. We like drinking the higher proof liquors that has been in our culture for the past few centuries. I like to continue to produce such liquors in order to preserve my own heritage and that is why I’ve created Yerlo 120 Proof (retail: $36) and Yerlo Reserve 130 Proof ($55). Even though the proof is high, the flavor is never compromised. With the clear Yerlo rice spirits, you get the best of both worlds, flavor and robustness. There are no tannin after tastes and goes down smoothly. Yerlo Reserve is extra smooth and has a creeper effect. You wont believe it is 130 proof until a few moments later. The Yerlo 120 Proof is a harsh and powerful drink. Just like the Reserve but with up front powerful kick! Also take into consideration that it is uncommon for a party of 2-4 Hmong guys to completely finish 2-3 bottles of any Yerlo in a single sitting. We (the Hmong People) love to enjoy good liquor and it is even more satisfying when a great maker is making it.
Tell us a little about Yerlo X?
Ans: After the first 2 years of making clear rice spirits, I took Yerlo to a whole new level by make RICE WHISKEY. I challenged myself to create something no one has or made and that was Hmong Rice Whiskey. I once was a big fan of the French Cognac and drank mostly cognac but when I discovered that I can also make my own and didn’t have to shell out $120-150 per bottle each time, there was no turning back. Since then the only whiskey I will ever drink is Yerlo X.
Yerlo X is a Hmong rice whiskey that is 90 proof or 45%ABV. It takes about 13 months to make as it is 8 months fermentation and 4 months of oak barrel aging. The flavors are phenomenal with hints of vanilla, butterscotch, jasmine, and oak with no tannin after taste. Yerlo X is a very smooth and flavorful whiskey that once you’ve had it, there’s no going back. Retail of a Yerlo X bottle ranges from $150-$190 and flies off the shelves.
Yerlo X Hmong Rice Whiskey will now be available ONLY at the distillery for purchase and will run a retail price of $180/bottle.
I know you have a lot of irons in the fire brother with several business ventures, tell us a little about those as well as your future plans for the Yerlo brand
Ans: I started Yerlo not for money or fame but for the Love of creating something from nothing. To be able to see and enjoy it with friends, strangers is what brings me the most joy and accomplishments. I am very passionate about creating “Great” things, whether it’d be distilling great spirits and whiskies or opening a Vietnamese Restaurant making the best Pho dishes. I do it because I know I can do it BETTER! Not for the sake of “just” doing it. If I know I can’t do it any better, I will never start. I do it because I love doing what I do and I do what I love. Very soon, I will be opening a new distillery with a bigger still that will increase my prodcution. Keep an ear out for the good news. As always, Cheers to all of you out there who have supported me and God Bless!