For thousands of years, alcohol has shaped and been shaped by Chinese culture. From humble beginnings among ancient farmers of the Central Plain to the mass mobilization of modern industry in the People’s Republic, alcohol has touched all aspects of Chinese life. It has influenced religion and art, philosophy and politics. It has helped bring together adversaries and brought about the downfall of kingdoms. Now Chinese spirits are branching out into the rest of the world. The story of baijiu is the story of China. Here’s a short history lesson:
1st millennium BCE: As Chinese civilization began to take shape, wine becomes ever more prized. The ancient kings maintain court brewers to craft drinks used to cement friendships and win over enemies. They make countless drinks, but one wins out, a grain alcohol fermented from naturally harvested yeast. They called it jiu.
The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644): The earliest spirits in China were likely some variation of Middle Eastern arak, but China’s brewers waste little time. Thousands of years of folk knowledge are tweaked and refined to incorporate the wine still. The essence of huangjiu is extracted, and by the Ming Dynasty it becomes a potent drink known as shaojiu, or “burnt wine.” Today it is known as baijiu.
Modern China (2018): For the first time Chinese born in the north can easily drink the baijiu of the south, and vice versa. Distilleries begin exporting their spirits overseas, targeting the Chinese Diaspora and a new foreign audience.
GSN was sent four different baijius to sample the wide variety of styles. Here are a few of our thoughts:
Vinn Baijiu (80 proof)
Made by Vinn Distillery (Wilsonville, Oregon)
A slight musky nose. The flavor is at first similar of white dog or unaged whiskey, but this quickly changes into an almost nutty character. This is easily mixable in cocktails or served alongside an authentic Chinese meal.
Kinmen Laoliang (116 proof)
Made by Kinmen Laoliang (Jinmen Island)
Very faint smoke on the nose. The flavor is akin to smoked lychee or woodfire smoked apples. Quite unique. This is an aggressive spirit which can add an extra dimension to a mixed drink, but also makes for a great sipper by itself. Note: you might want to water this down a bit or pop a cube or two if ice in the glass to smooth out the cask-strength fire.
Ming River (90 proof)
Made by Luzhou Laojiao (Sichuan Province)
Very fruity on the nose. Again, lychee comes to mind. A lot of the fruit character comes through and stays for quite some time. Think Juicy Fruit gum, but with a rich and flavorful alcoholic kick. This one is made for an exotic martini or Collins. Hell, I’d even suggest that this go into an original tiki-styled concoction.
Moutai Prince (106 proof)
Made by Kweichow Moutai (Maotai, Guizhou)
More of the that slight musky funk and nuttiness on the nose. The flavor is intense with a very alcohol-forward character. A hazelnut flavor comes through afterwards and ends on a slight brown bread note. Definitely the most unusual of the quartet. This is a challenging one to mix with, but makes for an unusual sipper.
For more information go to: Drink Baiju