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Baijiu

Baijiu (which translates to ‘white liquor’ or ‘clear spirit’) is China’s national drink and was first made 5,000 years ago. It is distilled from sorghum, wheat, rice, sticky rice or corn and uses solid-state fermentation without yeast, like most other production processes. What sets it apart? We’re glad you asked. It’s the use of a fermentation agent called Qu (pronounced “chew”) in a process that heats fermented grains in a special still until the liquid turns to steam. This is collected and allowed to cool, resulting in a colourless, yet fragrant spirit with an alcohol content that's typically 60% ABV or more.

You can distinguish baijiu by production methods, ingredients and other regional variations, but the Chinese government classifies baijiu linguistically by its aroma and its distinctive smell (simply nosing baijiu is an experience all in itself), which is highly valued in Chinese culinary culture. The current system of classification began in 1952 and was updated in August 1979 at the third nationwide baijiu competition. There are now four major baijiu categories.

The primary baijiu categories are ‘rice aroma’, a sweet and floral baijiu that originated in southern the Guangxi province and is made from rice (unsurprisingly); ‘light aroma’, a style common in the north which is fermented solely from sorghum and is usually delicate and dry; ‘strong aroma’, China's most popular baijiu which is produced with at least two different grains and fermented in mud pits to give it a complex flavour; and ‘sauce aroma’, which is the most expensive type of baijiu and is said to resemble soy sauce.

Traditionally, baijiu is served neat at room temperature and drunk with food rather than on its own (responsible, delicious and understandable given one variety has the soy sauce comparison going for it). However, it is becoming increasingly fashionable to infuse baijiu with fruit, medicinal herbs or spices, and cocktails are gaining popularity, too.

Due to its reputation for what could reasonably be termed a ‘challenging’ flavour profile, baijiu has become an appealing prospect for bartenders and drink connoisseurs alike in the West, where the fact that baijiu is a lesser known, lesser tasted, spirit, makes it something of a commodity. Seriously, try sitting in a ‘trendy’ cocktail bar in London and see if you can go an hour without hearing the word ‘baijiu’.

According to a report by International Wine & Spirits Group, there are around 14,000 distilleries producing baijiu. Thanks to China's huge population baijiu is the most widely consumed spirit in the world. Well, who knew? Apart from the Chinese, obviously. As you can imagine, the statistics are obscene. Baijiu accounts for almost a third of global spirit sales and it is estimated that about 5.5 billion litres were sold in 2016.

In 2017, our baijiu sales increased by 650% year-on-year. We think it’s fair to say that, in the West, baijiu has become an ever more appealing spirit of choice. Why not try some for yourself and see what all the fuss is about?

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