Guizhou Maotai might be the most famous baijiu brand, but there is a lot more to know about the world’s most-consumed spirit than one famous name alone.
A recent article in the Straits Times makes the claim that baijiu may be breaking out onto the world scene. We see similar articles every year, to be honest, so we just keep on doing our part by serving up baijiu to our guests that want to learn more about this under-appreciated and wildly complex alcohol. “The spirit is produced throughout China, with the Sichuan province accounting for the biggest proportion of production facilities and baijiu distilleries. With its regional differences, baijiu is categorised according to scent – namely rice, light, sauce and strong,” the article explains.
While there’s a focus on baijiu in Sichuan province, The lack of a baijiu bar or venue in Chengdu for budding aficionados to share and learn about baijiu led Jordan Porter, founder of Chengdu Food Tours, to start the Chengdu Baijiu Club. He wanted “to give people a safe, and positive place in which they can taste and learn about baijiu. Free from the pressure and overdrinking of most unplanned baijiu sessions. It’s a place to learn and experiment and share.” Not overdrinking is probably the key here. Any time you take the mental energy to stop and think about what you’re putting into your body, to notice and enjoy its subtleties will probably lead to an overall better experience, especially when you’re dealing with a spirit that has quite strong alcohol levels.
Our tips are below, but lets start out with how the ST article states to properly enjoy baijiu:
- Luzhou Laojiao baijiu tasting master Xu Huan says baijiu should be drunk neat, without ice or water.
In summer, it is drunk chilled at between 8 and 12 deg C, while in winter, the baijiu is meant to warm drinkers up.
While it is usually taken as a shot, she suggests savouring it differently.
• Relax: Calm yourself down and relax.
• See: Hold the glass 20cm away from you. The liquid should be clear and transparent, with no residue. When you swirl the glass, observe the delicate drips on the inside of the glass, which are called “tears of wine”.
• Smell: Good baijiu will smell aromatic and elegant, while bad baijiu will smell unpleasant. The baijiu will need to be nosed repeatedly, but when you exhale, exhale away from the glass as the carbon dioxide will affect the aroma of the baijiu.
• Taste: Take three sips, each between 0.5 and 2ml. With the first sip, let the baijiu slowly enter the mouth and notice how it is sweet or salty on certain parts of the tongue. With the second sip, let the baijiu aroma fill your mouth. Finish the rest with the third sip.
Jordan’s tips: Pairing Baijiu With Food
Rule #1 is that baijiu is meant to be shared. If you are drinking alone regularly, please get help. If you are drinking baijiu regularly, PLEASE GET HELP. Moving on. Rule #2 “is that you should drink baijiu from the region of the food you are eating, so in Sichuan you generally want to pair with Sichuan baijius, which are strong aroma baijius. These ‘rules’ are all loose so its up to the drinker but I think LuZhou LaoJiao and JianNanChun have some reasonably priced offerings that represent the strong aroma category quite well. They are easy to find and pair well with the food. If you’re talking cheap little bottles that you get at the restaurant, WaiZui goes down much better than JiangXiaoBai or HongXing ErguoTou.”
Don’t Take Baijiu Too Seriously
You really can do whatever you want when it comes to baijiu (except drink it alone – Jordan expounds on this: “It does not pair well with loneliness, and dark rainy evenings and candle-light.”) He continues, “One thing I love
about baijiu is there aren’t many rules – just enjoy yourself! It’s not like wine where you got tasting notes and sommeliers, it’s all about enjoyment and celebration. To that effect, my main tip is that baijiualways goes best with food and people, its a very social drink and makes for good times. Other than that, just experiment. Baijiu is a huge category and just because you didn’t like one baijiu, or had a bad experience doesn’t mean you can’t find one you love, or learn to love it. Baijiu is complex, loving baijiu is a journey, enjoy the ride!
Quick Baijiu Tips
China drinking etiquette varies widely by region, but these are pretty standard:
1)Generally, make sure the host always gets due credit, but also make sure you toast anyone who is of a higher status. Show respect to elders and be humble.
2) Keep your glass below the lip of the host and/or person giving the toast’s glass to signify being humbled in their honor.
2) Clink your glasses on the lazy susan or table instead of clinking actual glasses together if you can’t reach.
4) Always say ganbei 干杯 and finish your glass.
5)If you’re worried about overdrinking or getting pressured in a business or social statement, try not to start drinking at all. If you say you’re allergic, people can respect that, but then do NOT back down from that and drink even a little.