Andy Benson visited China annually for work between 1993 and 2003, then lived here for a decade, starting in 2004. Now settled back in the United States, in Houston, he talks about his experiences with baijiu.
When did you first try baijiu?
My first visit to China was in March of 1993. I was 26 years old at the time, part of a technical exchange team of four Americans. We spent four weeks in Langfang, working with CNPC (China National Petroleum Corporation), and the second night of our visit our hosts held a banquet for us. I drank two bottles of what I believe was Luzhou Laojiao. It was strong, but I was still young, and I enjoyed it!
What are you favorite baijius?
I guess since my first type of Baijiu was of the “strong aroma” (浓香) I tend to prefer this type. If I am allowed to choose, I most often pick Wuliangye or Shuijingfang.
I have never really enjoyed Maotai, even though I once had a chance to taste some that was 50 years old. I tend to steer clear of the “sauce aroma” (酱香), but will often select Hongxing Erguotou when in Beijing, especially if my guests are originally from Beijing. I steer clear of the little green bottles!
One of my new favorites is byejoe. They have worked hard to come up with great flavors for the infusions.
Given the choice between low and high alcohol content, I typically choose the high, not because I want the drunk feeling faster, but I think it has a better flavor. I must admit that I am always intrigued by the large bottles of “medicinal” baijiu you often find in restaurants. They always have such interesting flavors.
Can you tell us a bit more about your experiences with baijiu?
No matter what type of baijiu, the best part for me is the drinking “ritual”. This includes the order of the toasting, the ability to show respect by lowering the rim of your glass, and even being the one who must drink if the tail of the fish at dinner is pointing at you!
Once everyone is feeling “comfortable”, it is easy to build relationships and friendships. My Chinese is not very good, so I often depend on a translator during meetings. I can’t count the number of times that I have spent the entire day working with someone via a translator only to discover later that evening, after a few cups of baijiu, that the person I was working with speaks and understands English perfectly. We will then chat openly and directly improve our relationship.
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