What Is Baijiu? China’s Favorite Liquor Is Finally Coming to a Bar Near You

October 15, 2018, 11:37 AM UTC

A billion Chinese people can’t be wrong: Their beloved baijiu, a strong grain alcohol, is now seeking western drinkers.

The state-owned Luzhou Laojiao Co. distillery has set up a company called Ming River with international partners to introduce baijiu to the U.S. and Europe.

“It’s always associated with drunk older men doing deals or getting wasted at Chinese banquets,” Chang Qian, a 28-year-old Beijing resident, told the Wall Street Journal. “It’s not associated with the Western concept of partying.”

Baijiu is usually made from fermented sorghum, but other grains are sometimes used. Clocking in at 80 to 120 proof, baijiu is not for amateurs. There are four broad flavor types of baijiu: strong aroma (full bodied, spicy, fruity), light aroma (light, floral, slightly sweet), sauce aroma (umami, mushroom, earth) and rice aroma (light, clean, honeyed).

Baijiu makes up 99.6% of the Chinese spirits market, and generated more than $100 billion in sales last year, according to Euromonitor.

The success of smoky mezcal could be a sign that the U.S. is ripe for baijiu. “I think the tastes of consumers today are changing,” Simon Dang, the global director of marketing for Ming River, told Michelin “People are looking for unusual, authentic flavors.”

With its initial $6 million all-cash investment in Ming River, Luzhou Laojiao, a $9 billion company, is hoping to create a western thirst for baijiu, WSJ reports. The grain spirit is usual taken straight-up, but the company is courting bartenders to play to American cocktail culture.

At Christie’s first auction dedicated to baijiu last month, a 1957 and a 1958 bottle of Moutai brand baijiu were sold for about $86,700 each. The most expensive bottle of baijiu ever sold is a 1935 Lay Mau that went for RMB 10 million ($1.5 million) in 2011.

In 2015, more than 5,000 bottles of baijiu were seized because it was found to be contaminated with sildenafil — generic Viagra.

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