If you’ve spent more than a few hours in China, you will have either heard of or come across Baijiu at least once. This ancient drink is the most consumed alcohol in the world, with over 5 billion litres sold in 2016. Over the years it has been used as an important part of Chinese culture to welcome guests, drunk during meals to show respect, and build relationships. However, it is slowly becoming more popular in the Western world, and can now be found in certain drinks and cocktails.
The first question lots of people ask is, “So, what is Baijiu?”. More often than not, the answer to this is simply “China’s national alcohol”, making it one of the most mysterious beverages out there. For many tourists who are out to experience the culture, and enjoy a night out at the same time, this answer is more than sufficient. Being cultured and it’s alcoholic? Perfect!
Maybe this limited explanation comes from the fact that in Chinese, Baijiu (白酒) literally means ‘clear/white alcohol’. However, for some of us it just sparks our curiosity even more, or perhaps makes us a little wearier. So, what’s actually in there?
Baijiu is a made primarily from fermented grain, usually Sorghum, but others such as rice and wheat can also be used. It is similar to the Japanese and Korean equivalents, however much stronger at around 40-60% (Japanese and Korean about 20-25%) meaning it is similar in taste experience with vodka. It can be enjoyed both hot and cold, and usually served in a small shot style glass.
Other ingredients come from how it is flavoured. There are hundreds of different types of Baijiu, usually categorised into its different flavours; Strong aroma, Light aroma, Sauce aroma, Rice aroma.
Strong Aroma: This is the most common type, made usually with single or multiple grains and fermented underground.
Light Aroma: Common in Northern China. Ingredients include sorghum and rice husks, and barley and peas to make it sweeter.
Sauce Aroma: Fermented in underground pits, it’s said that its taste resembles soy sauce, hence the name.
Rice Aroma: Made with either long grain or glutinous rice, it is often combined with herbs or tea.
There are hundreds of different kinds which range from the same price of a beer to the most expensive which will set you bad a few thousand RMB. You can also find a range of flavoured Baijiu, appealing more to a Western palate.
Whatever your preference, you’re going to have to learn to love Baijiu if you want to stay in China, since it is very hard to resist a pushy Chinese man shouting ‘ganbei’ (cheers), or if your mate has bought a round of shots for everyone. Because of its strong taste, it can be overwhelming at first, so try to start off at the lighter tastes and work yourself up gradually, just like you’re having your first beer again that you hated…
Head down to the DMZ just off West Street and sample some of the flavour infused Baijiu they have on offer!