Making up about 99.5% of all liquor consumed in China, its national consumers are more than familiar with the heaty spirit now gaining global traction. Baijiu, literally translated to mean “white liquor” in Mandarin, is a clear liquor distilled from fermented grain, typically sorghum. It remains almost enigmatic to the wider beverage community, in part due to its immense potency, as its alcohol percentage tends to span anywhere from 28% to 65% by volume. Unlike other alcohols, baijiu is classified through bouquet due to its unique scent, categorised frequently into strong, light, rice, and sauce (soy) aromas. The types of baijiu generally differ depending on their regions of origin, varying in their base ingredients, fermentation methods and alcohol by volume percentages.
AN IMMERSIVE HISTORY
There is no unanimous truth regarding the history behind baijiu’s invention, except that it has been around for a long time – at least since the Ming dynasty. Although its historical conception remains a mystery, there are two pervasive folk legends circulated amidst its native drinkers. In the first, the Xia dynasty’s mythical ruler, Yu the Great, commanded an imperial subject, Yi Di, to create a new type of wine. This resulted in the extraction of the essence of huangjiu, or “yellow liquor”, often thought to be baijiu’s predecessor and the first widely-consumed Chinese liquor. The second tale centred around an exile named Du Kang, who lived in the forest with his uncle during the Zhou dynasty. After hiding sorghum in the hole of a tree, the fermentation with rainwater then produced the fragrant baijiu as we know it today.
Relatively low-profile and traditionally premium, baijiu has veered into international recognition in recent years. A well-defined characteristic of this spirit is through its function as a steady companion to local fare, with diverse flavours are developed to tailor to its regional cuisine. Unlike a shot, baijiu, when coupled with meals, is to be savoured and sipped over a long session of enjoying food, frequently with one’s family and friends. The timely rise of baijiu ties into a universal integration of Eastern custom into contemporary culture, mirrored in the surge of Asian hot pot restaurants. An unexpected but welcome avenue that baijiu has taken up residence in: core ingredients within the craft cocktail movement, not only retaining a need to be savoured, but also exhibiting a pleasantly easy pairability with accompanying flavours.