The Chinese gastronomic heritage is so expansive that it is humanly impossible to experience everything within a lifetime. Take baijiu, the traditional liquor, for example. It is considered to be the world’s bestselling liquor and ranks higher in sale volumes than whiskey, gin, tequila, vodka, and rum combined. Though it’s well-known among spirit aficionados around the world, baijiu still not widespread enough to become a household name yet.
So, what is the big deal about this particular spirit? Let’s say baijiu is to China and Chinese culture, as rum is to the Caribbean, or tequila is to Mexico. In simpler words, it is a category of spirits made with local crops. It’s aromatic, as clear as water, and feels as hot as fire, thanks to its typical alcohol content ranging from 35% to 60% AVB (alcohol by volume).
This traditional spirit is typically made from sorghum – a cereal grain. But there are other variants that are made from different crops like rice, corn, wheat, barley, and various types of millets. So, technically, it is not just a spirit but rather a class of spirits, like wine. It can vary in taste, color, consistency, and use, depending on where and how it is brewed. From the crops used to the production techniques, baijiu varies from region to region within China, thus giving a distinct character to each type of baijiu produced in each region. Just like whiskey, wine, or tequila.
One of the things that’s most intriguing about this liquor is its deep-seated cultural history. No one knows when or how it originated but there are records of mentioning baijiu across all Chinese eras and dynasties. However, the drinking culture associated with it is said to have started during the time of the Ming dynasty. Today, baijiu is an essential part of a formal setting. Dinners and business meetings are incomplete without a sip of this fiery, aromatic, liquid.
Why should you try baijiu?
Well, why do we try any new alcohol? For the sake of adding newness to our palate, to expose ourselves to other ethnic cultures, or to simply, sample different flavors. The same reasons are good enough to try this traditional Chinese liquor as well.
With its high alcohol content, baijiu makes for a good base for cocktails. There are a host of recipes using different variants, available from Ming River, a popular baijiu brand.
But the best way to taste this is to try it like they traditionally do. Sip it with your meal or enjoy it slow and steady, like a good, old, bourbon. It’s all about savoring the color, aroma, and then the taste, utilizing all your senses to soak in this rich spirit.
For your next dinner party, why not try this ancient liquor?