By Jim Boyce | Last year’s inaugural World Baijiu Day featured events in 20 cities, from Beijing to Brussels, from Shanghai to Sydney, from London to Los Angeles. With six weeks to go, this year’s party on August 9 is destined to be even bigger.
Many people loathe baijiu due to ganbei (bottoms up!) sessions (and hangovers) and get nauseous at the mere sight of a bottle. Or due to aromas and flavors they find weird. Or to the strength of this spirit that often packs a 52 percent punch.
That’s why our theme is “beyond ganbei“. Last year in Beijing, for example, we had baijiu cocktails, liqueurs, beers and food pairings. Or foods themselves, like drunken shrimp pizzas by Gung Ho, deep-fried baijiu by Windy City and gummy bears by Alex J. Our goal is simply to get people to try baijiu, since many outside China haven’t heard of this spirit despite it having bigger global sales than gin, vodka or whisky.
There are also people who have come to know and like baijiu, via experiences in China or the rising number of brands, cocktails and infusions abroad. Last year, I talked to a half-dozen of them for the series Confessions of a Baijiu Drinker , that became an article in The Beijinger, and plan to do more in coming weeks. See how people first tried baijiu, what brands they like and their amusing experiences by clicking each name:
- David Volodzko: “I returned to China in 2012 and cracked open a Red Star from time to time, but only as a means of letting loose. I couldn’t get into the flavor. When a friend from Guizhou asked if I liked baijiu, I hesitated, and he practically force-fed me several cups of Maotai. That was when the lights turned on.”
- Andy Benson: “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!”
- Lao San: “…during my three years in Wuhan, I discovered that locals actually drink baijiu like the French drink wine—as something to be sipped and appreciated rather than knocked back between bites of food. It was there that I also tasted a wide range of baijius from fiery hot to smooth and subtle. It was then that I began to appreciate the diversity of baijiu.”
- Paul Mathew: “There were techniques [used to make baijiu] similar to agricole rum production, flavours reminiscent of tequila and grappa, clay pot ageing that was new to me, and a whole new classification system for spirits based on their fragrance. Whilst the flavours were initially quite new to me, it was great to taste things analytically and that helped [as a bartender] to pull out the styles that I enjoyed more, and to pair them with things in cocktails.”
- Derek Sandhaus: “My first attempt at a tasting involved buying two or three bottles and bringing them out to dinner with some friends. I remember we had a cheap bottle of Moutai and some Luzhou Laojiao on the table… You wouldn’t have known them for the same liquor if they weren’t both labelled baijiu… This was a bit of an a-ha moment for me.”
- Nick van Leeuwen: “I am a big fan of strong-flavored baijiu. My three favorite baijius are Mengzhilan, Wuliangye and Shuijingfang. As a foreigner calling Beijing home, I also can’t go past a bottle of light-flavoured erguotou with some local friends.”
- Jim Boyce: “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.”
More to come!