The clear and potent spirit of baijiu may be a new trend on cocktail menus in the Western World, but it has a long and rich history in China, dating back thousands of years, and it still maintains a strong foothold in Chinese culture today. In the Western world, baijiu may be a new trend on cocktail menus in the Western World. According to Science Direct, baijiu has been produced since before the 2nd century BCE, if not earlier. Historical records show that “the earliest distillation tools appeared during the era of the Song dynasty,” and one text describes a method “using wheat, barley, sticky rice, etc., to produce a distilled liquor” — a method that has remained the same to this day. Baijiu is a traditional Chinese spirit that is distilled from a variety of grains and rice
If you’ve never had the pleasure of drinking a shot of the clear distilled liquor at a Chinese banquet with a scroll of poet Li Bai’s famous Bring the Wine poem hanging on the wall (or even if you have), baijiu isn’t simply a powerful drink that’ll burn in your mouth. It’s also a cultural experience. It has played an important role in the development of Chinese culture and tradition over the course of thousands of years. Let’s explore.
A Concise Overview Of The History Of Baijiu
According to DrinkBaijiu, the first jiu was made from rice, honey, grapes, and hawthorn fruit and appeared between 7000 and 5000 BCE in the Henan Province. Baijiu, on the other hand, began to spread throughout China between the years 1644 and 1948. This is despite the fact that the Chinese have been drinking and enjoying alcohol for thousands upon thousands of years. Depending on the region to which the beverage was brought, different customs and variants developed throughout time. In spite of this, baijiu eventually became the beverage of choice among the ordinary people, while huangjiu, often known as yellow wine, was the beverage of choice among the wealthy.
Then, in 1949, with the birth of The People’s Republic of China, the government began to modernize, standardize, classify, and record techniques for making different styles of Chinese spirits by setting up regional distilleries. This paved the way for national baijiu brands to be born, as well as, much later on, for baijiu to transition from a drink of the masses to a drink of the elite in China.
How Is Baijiu Made?
The term “bai” means “white” in Mandarin, while the word “jiu” means “liquor.” This is a pretty basic description of the alcoholic beverage that is preferred all across China.
According to c&en, baijiu is produced by fermenting cooked sorghum with a yeast starter known as jiu qu. This yeast starter is simply a “block of crushed wheat, barley, and occasionally peas,” and it is added to the cooked sorghum throughout the fermentation process. As a result of this, yeast and fungi will germinate if the temperature and humidity levels are just right. When these organisms come into contact with the sorghum grains, enzymes will be secreted, macromolecules will be broken down, and ethanol will be produced. This process is what gives baijiu its distinctive flavor.
However, I must caution you. According to China Live, baijiu normally contains an ABV (alcohol by volume) that ranges from 80% to 120%. This indicates that baijiu is a potent alcoholic beverage. Therefore, it is not recommended for those who are either inexperienced alcoholics or those who have a poor tolerance for alcohol. According to the publication, Moutai is also considered to be one of the most well-known brands of baijiu.
What Does Baijiu Taste Like?
There is no denying that baijiu has a taste of its own, and it is one that is difficult to describe in words. However, Westerners have characterized the flavor as “funky, with a rotten, sweet fruit flavor and a touch of nuttiness.” In my own experience, it tastes like the flaming anger of my ancestors’ disappointment dancing on my tongue, while Westerners have described the flavor as “nuttiness.” It truly does depend on the sort of baijiu that you have on the table as to whether or not it gives out an aroma that is reminiscent of soy sauce to an experienced nose. The aforementioned yeast, known as jiu qu or just qu, is responsible for the wide range of flavors and properties found in baijiu. These characteristics are what give baijiu its distinctive characteristics.
Baijiu is not a particular spirit but rather a category of spirit that may take on many different appearances, aromas, and nuances of color. The JiangJi Distillery divides the many varieties of baijiu into the following 13 categories: extra-strong aroma, medicine fragrance, extra-light aroma, sauce aroma, rice aroma, phoenix aroma, mixed aroma, chi aroma, sesame aroma, extra-strong aroma, unique aroma, and laobaigan scent.
The Art of Consuming Baijiu Without Embarrassment
Moutai, the most famous brand of spirit in the world, may cost anywhere from $127 to $20,000 for a single bottle. As a result of its exorbitant cost, it is favored by wealthy individuals and entrepreneurs who like to make a good impression (via South China Morning Post). After all, this is the brand that President Nixon publicly cheered on during his trip to China in 1972, while he was meeting with Premier Zhou En Lai.
It is often believed that doing business in China is quite demanding: Drinking baijiu is nearly obligatory while having dinner with coworkers, and there are even instances of subordinates drinking on behalf of their boss. All of this is done to save face, since “losing face,” also known as “diu lian,” is a cultural faux pas that results in a loss of self-respect. When one is out drinking with friends or family, the pressure to drink is not as great as it is when one is doing business in China, as is noted in the comprehensive advice that Quartz provides on business drinking in China.
Be careful to eat a lot of food, drink a lot of water, and bear in mind that you may take your shot of baijiu gently if you find yourself in a situation where you are confronted with a Chinese uncle who continues pouring shots after shots into your glass. In any other case, you should go to the local hip cocktail bar, get a drink made with the most recent spirit, and sip it while being aware that you are ingesting tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of years worth of Chinese history and culture.