China’s national spirit might be the most consumed spirit in the world on account of the country’s population, but ‘baiju’ just hasn’t quite caught on in the UK. Yet.
The drink has a slightly questionable reputation.
Around 10.8 billion litres of baiju was consumed last year, nearly all in China, according to International Wine and Spirit Research, which is more than whisky, vodka, gin, rum and tequila combined.
The drink has some fruity notes, but the crystal-clear beverage also has an intense, earthy essence. It’s strong stuff, ranging from 35 to 55% alcohol depending on the variety.
The drink hails from the southwestern province of Sichuan, where employees mix grain mash in 500-year-old earthen tanks in the distillery.
Some have said it tastes like burning plastic or ‘liquid razor blades’, but kinder critics say it is reminiscent of truffles.
Yet, baiju’s popularity in China has exceeded expectations, making it the most consumed spirit in the world, and the main producer is one of the most valuable distilleries globally.
Su Wanghui, information director at Luzhou Laojiao, one of the country’s biggest and oldest brands said: ‘Baiju belongs to China, but also the world.
‘We hope to have people around the world try baiju, and like baiju.’
Drinks expert at Demon, Wise & Partners Ellie Veale thinks she knows why it hasn’t been a hit overseas.
She said: ‘I worked on a cattle farm in Australia and this kind of aftertaste reminds me of the smell of… cow manure, hay and horses.’
Su added: ‘The foreign view of baiju is: very spicy, like a rocket blasting to heaven.’
Despite the popularity in China, elsewhere, the spirit is virtually unheard off – but producers are now looking towards a global market.
A wave of “baijiu bars” opened in China, the US, and Europe in recent years as a buzz swelled.
Many have since closed but some London bars have started to stock the spirit, including Demon, Wise & Partners in the East.
Owner of Demon, Wise & Partners Paul Mathew said: ‘It’s a challenge for the customers.
‘It hasn’t really caught on in the West yet.’
The price of top brands is one reason. Mathew charges £12 for a glass of ‘Kweichow Moutai’.
‘It is also a very unfamiliar flavour for guests, so we need to tell them the story, how baiju is made, why it has the characteristics it has, before it becomes more accessible.’
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