BAIJIU, THE TRENDY CHINESE LIQUEUR
The Baijiu is a Chinese distillate, and the most sold liqueur worldwide. In Western countries, it is being increasingly used due to its versatility. The Tequila’s throne starts wobbling.
Party meeting. Not the meeting of a whatever party. The meeting of a party of Leninian inspiration: the PCC. The Chinese Communist Party.
At the meeting, mostly executives so, not a Politburo, we assume, with the President and the Ministers in the lead. A minor meeting of businessmen. They talk, agreements are drawn up, and at the end, they make toasts with Baijiu. The day after, the hangover. It’s a tradition.
The Baijiu is the most consumed alcoholic drink (30%-55% vol) in China and in the world, with a consumption average of 20 billion liters per year and a millennial history.
The Dragon’s purpose is to increase the sells in Europe and in North America, so as to make of Baiju the new Tequila. And this is happening, similarly to many other Chinese products.
The liquor is sharp, bitter, and spreads sweet notes at the end. The very first time, when you try it, it seems like having a soaked Peke cat smoothie.
In other words, the Baijiu has a traumatic impact on Westerners. “When I moved to China, 15 years ago – declared Bill Isler in an interview for Munchies – I literally hated Baijiu. After the first sips, I told myself I would have never tried it again, even though they paid me”. But then, to avoid being taken for one of those European snobs while working with his Chinese colleagues, Isler pursued his tastings. Finally, his perception changed: “I realized that Baijius are all different and that I liked some”.
Today, Isler is the co-owner of a Baijiu bar in Beijing, and he is able to “convert the 90% of customers to it when they come to try the liquor for the first time, whether they are Chinese or European”.
The liqueur preparation has nothing in common with western spirits recipes. The main raw ingredient is sorghum, that is left to ferment in small barrels. The water used by the major Baijiu Chinese brand, the Moutai, comes from the Chishu River, precisely from where it crosses the drink’s homonym village.
The Maotai has been drunk at a meeting between Nixon and Zhou En-lai, in 1972, and every newspaper of the world reported that event. According to the “New York Times”, «President Richard Nixon got glassy-eyed from Moutai toasts at a state banquet, ignoring fervent pleas from his aides to avoid the ceremonial toasts».
In the last years, the major Anglo-Saxon cities (New York, Los Angeles, London, and Sydney) started proposing Baijiu-based cocktails, and the tendency is catching on even in Italy. At the contest “Top Barman” that took place at the Carrara’s fair, the best Italian bartenders improvised on an alcoholic Chinese score. The peculiar fragrance of the Chinese elixir lends itself to mixologists’ experimentations, and it’s no coincidence if Baijiu bars and websites are springing up in England.
Here a couple of Chinese culture pills: If you drink the liqueur on a shot glass, you should shout “Ganbei!” (literally “dry cup!”). Also, when making a toast, be sure that you are keeping your glass lower than your friends: it’s a sign of great respect. And remember, the more you drink, the more respect you show to the other person, whether you are having a social or a business meal, no matter if you are toasting or being toasted. This is a custom deeply rooted in Chinese culture.
Here a few recipes for you to test it.
This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)