Thursday, November 12, 2015

Exploring Baijiu: A Look at China’s top white distillate and how to enjoy it on the U.S. Market

By Liza B. Zimmerman

Vodka has long been the top white sprit stateside as its neutral and easily mixes with all kinds of ingredients. Chinese spirits producers are hoping to change the game by introducing American consumers to this white spirit, which is often incorrectly called rice wine. It is actually generally made from sorghum and can also be produced from barley, millet and wheat.

In China, some producers—and visitors—admit, that consumption has been focused on quantity over quality. This spirit was reportedly the lifeblood that kept the Red Army ticking and huge sums, which some have compared to defense spending, have been invested in its purchase and consumption.

The introduction of high-end bottlings to the American market is move that Chinese distillers hope will help Chinese consumption patterns evolve as well. Inexpensive bottles have long been available in Chinatown, but now luxury offerings such as Kweichow Moutai Baijiu, which normally sells for almost $160 for a 375-ml. bottle, are more readily available.

Baijiu’s history is believed to date back to the era BC and was officially documented in the Song Dynasty which dates to 960 AD. It’s classified by aromas that can vary from “sauce” to “strong.”

Tasting and Experimenting
On first taste Baijiu is strong, intense and can intensely heat up your mouth from an alcohol-by-volume content that often tops 50 percent. Some Baijius are blended with spirits of different age statements. Many have floral and fruit aromas that have to be carefully detected on the nose to avoid the heat from the high proof.

When Orson Salicetti opened the Baijiu bar Lumos on Houston Street, in downtown New York, he had to do a lot of research. He was experienced in putting new spins on single-spirit focused bars—having worked at New York’s Apotheke  in Chinatown—but had to do extra research to introduce the American drinker to Baijiu. That included making his own milks and creating some esoteric Baijiu infusions.

“Baijiu has a rich aroma for a clear spirits… and it’s full of flavor, great for infusions and cocktails.” He enjoys, and serves it, both neat and infusions and cocktails. He adds that, “because of  the heightened percentage of alcohol, Baijiu is great for infusions with dry fruits like dates, apricot, and figs. I like to mix Baijiu with fresh fruit juices with texture like pears, honeydew and pineapples.”

Trying it in different types of glasses both neat and on the rocks, will help a novice drinker become familiar with its different flavor profiles. Introducing an ice cube or two, or a touch of water will also help the spirit to evolve in the glass, even though most Chinese consumer it at room temperature. Since many Baijius’ have a salty flavor to them, they also complement saline and spicy snacks.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Liza B. Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about wine and food for two decades. She is principal of the San Francisco-based Liza the Wine Chick wine writing, education and consulting firm. She has worked on staff and freelance at national magazines such as Wine Enthusiast, The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana, Wine Spectator, Where SF and the Examiner. She currently contributes to Cheers, Wine Business Monthly and the Examiner, among others.

Zimmerman focuses on demystifying wine and transforming it into a tool for business and networking for companies all over the country. Past clients include Genentech, Roche and IBM.

She has visited all the world’s major wine regions and is one of select few in the U.S. to hold the Diploma of Wine & Spirits (D.W.S.), the three-year precursor to the Master of Wine.

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