Welcome to ‘Confessions of a Baijiu Drinker‘. This series asks people to share their experiences with baijiu: that first taste, the point where appreciation began, a funny anecdote or two. Given I’m asking people to spill their deepest darkest baijiu secrets, it’s only fair I go first.
When did you first try baijiu?
During my first trip to China. It was 1999, we were in Inner Mongolia checking off the sleep-in-a-yurt box and a tour guide told us it was still Chinese New Year. He opened a bottle of baijiu and threw some on the campfire. His grin as it exploded into flames should have served as a warning but instead we wanted to try a shot.
When did you first begin to appreciate baijiu?
It’s impossible to pinpoint a date. It happened gradually over years of ganbei-style dinners. There were times when the mood was so good I was inspired to recklessly toast people and I came to like some baijius. I particularly remember being in Xinjiang and being given a choice between Cognac or Maotai after dinner. Maybe it was because I’d had baijiu with roast mutton so often, but I willingly chose the Maotai.
I also became interested in baijiu cocktails after I started my nightlife blog Beijing Boyce in 2006. I’ve found more than a dozen bars over the years that made them, including a few during the Beijing Olympics in 2008, and we even had an intense experimental baijiu pickleback session last year.
What are your favorite baijius?
These days, I lean toward “sauce aroma” baijius, the ones with that Maotai style. I find they have a lot of interesting scents, from soy sauce to bean paste to salted plums.
For value, I buy the light aroma baijiu Niulanshan, which starts at rmb10, and enjoy Kinmen Kaoliang from that category, too. I also enjoyed my only taste of the pork-infused baijiu Yubingshao.
Do you have a baijiu drinking story to share?
Two years ago, I took the overnight train from Beijing to Shanghai for a 10 AM tasting of 80-plus baijius organized by Derek Sandhaus at Yuan Bar. I wanted to be there early because I feared the event would be swamped and the baijiu in short supply. In fact, the only other person to show up for the morning session was a Hong Kong-based wine expert named Jeannie Cho-Lee. Sandhaus arranged the baijius by styles, which helped demonstrate their uniqueness, and I managed to taste 65 bottles before leaving at 4 PM to head back to Beijing.
One more anecdote. In 2011, I went to a dinner with three top wine industry people, Ma Huiqin, Li Demei and Frankie Zhao, and a visiting Chilean wine professor. We drank an eclectic mix of wines, including an organic Israeli Petit Syrah and a 1968 Austrian Beerenauslese. Li and Zhao decided to get one more bottle: that ubiquitous Hong Xing erguotou that retails for rmb4 or about a dollar. They told me that it was cheap but also interesting because of its yeasty character. I doubt we’ll ever the see the combo below again.