Get Ready for Global Domination?
What is the world’s most consumer spirit by volume? If faced with this question in a pub quiz, would you know the answer? It is, of course, baijiu, but do you know what that is? Unless you are part of the Chinese or bartending communities, then baijiu is probably a complete mystery. Let B&C unveil the wonders of baijiu so if nothing else, you can outsmart everyone else at the next pub quiz.
In a way, to get to know baijiu you have to put aside a lot of assumptions you may have about booze. For example, If you were asked to list the top three most profitable spirit brands in the world, you might think of Bacardi or Smirnoff and even if you were wrong, you probably think you would recognise the names. How surprised would you be to discover that out of the top five (according to a Brand Finance study), four of them are baijius - the drink you have probably never heard of. It doesn’t help that when a Buzzfeed video showed people tasting baijiu for the first time in 2015, many were baffled and put off by its aroma and savoury flavour. Some believe that baijiu has a fearsome reputation because people coming to it for the first time are coerced by over enthusiastic hosts, often drink too much and don’t realise that their first experience is not of the type of baijiu that most appeals to them.
So, it’s time to throw off these misconceptions and start afresh; it’s time you were introduced properly.
In Chinese baijiu means ‘clear spirit’.
The spirit has a long history; its current form dates to the Ming Dynasty. Baijiu is pronounced ‘bye joe’.
There are four aroma profiles of baijiu; rice, light, strong and sauce.
Baijiu is a very broad term; there is huge variety, just as you would find amongst the world of gins.
Baijiu is usually distilled from sorgham and/or rice, but can also include barley, wheat or millet.
It is drunk at all festival events in China, but particularly at the Lunar New Year.
Say “ganbei” when drinking baijiu - it is like saying ‘bottoms up’.
Baijiu is tradionally served at room temperature.
Explore baijiu in all its forms solo before trying it with devotees.
Time to get technical
Before you dive into the world of baijiu, it is important to first wrap your head around the four main types of baijiu, as each has its own distinct flavour and aroma. Pick the wrong one for you as your starting point and you may stumble at the first hurdle.
1. Rice aroma
Of the four types, rice aroma is probably the lightest because unlike the others it is made just from rice. This difference gives it a floral and sweet note. It has been likened to vodka.
2. Light aroma
The light aroma comes from the northern provinces, especially the areas in and around Beijing. Instead of using rice, the light aroma is made with sorghum. The light aroma packs a punch with ABV sometimes reaching as much as 56%. In contrast to the rice aroma, light aroma is quite dry.
3. Strong aroma
This aroma is a totally different baijiu in terms of ingredients and flavour. To start with, it is made with a minimum of two grains and fermentation takes place in mud pits. The result is an earthy, ripe flavour. Of the four types, the strong aroma is the most popular in China.
4. Sauce aroma
This is the baijiu that tends to throw people because of its savoury flavour, described by some as being similar to soy sauce.
If you really get into Baijiu then you can dive deeper and explore the other aromas, such as medicine, phoenix, sesame and ‘chi’ to name but a few.
How to Start Your Baijiu Journey
The Chinese drink baijiu with their meals, not drunk in the same way as wine, but in small shot like glasses. This is perhaps the best way for the novice to start out. Some suggest that starting out with the rice aroma is the way to go as it is easier on the palate for first timers.
The world is starting to open its bar doors to baijiu as bars dedicated to the drink are starting to pop up across the world, such as Lumos in New York and Fu in Liverpool. There is even a World Baijiu Day. Distilleries are even opening outside China, like Dragon Mist in New Zealand. Make sure that you don’t miss the Baijiu dragon boat as it takes the world by storm!
Boyce, J. (2017) ‘5 Things to Know about Baijiu, the World’s Most Consumed Spirit’, Culturetrip.com, https://theculturetrip.com/asia/china/articles/5-things-to-know-about-baijiu-the-worlds-most-consumed-spirit/ = accessed 05-03-2019
Mancall-Bitel, N. (2019) ‘What Will It Take for Baijiu to Break Through Around the World?’ Vinepair.com, https://vinepair.com/articles/baijiu-chinese-spirit-where-to-try/?utm_source=The+Drop+by+VinePair&utm_campaign=b7d3f1f9f9-MAR_6_2019&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_b653fb8c99-b7d3f1f9f9-47223041&goal=0_b653fb8c99-b7d3f1f9f9-47223041&mc_cid=b7d3f1f9f9&mc_eid=6d3816209b - accessed 06-03-2019
Wang, S. (2017) ‘How to Drink Baijiu: Beijing’s Pros Share Their Tips’, https://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/how-to-drink-baijiu-china/index.html - accessed on 08-03-2019