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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Baijiu

Ten bottles to transport you

It looks like most of us won’t be travelling very far in the near future because of that ongoing pandemic thing. But never fear, you can still travel through the…

It looks like most of us won’t be travelling very far in the near future because of that ongoing pandemic thing. But never fear, you can still travel through the magic of booze. From dry sherry to pungent cachaça, here are ten bottles to transport you to faraway lands. 

Nobody wants to go on holiday at the moment because it means that you might have to spend two weeks in quarantine stuck in a Travelodge at Gatwick airport. A bit like Alan Partridge, but less funny.

But it’s not all bad. There’s so much to see and do in Britain, from the mountains of Scotland to the sandy beaches of Kent. The summer holidays should be boom time for the country’s hospitality industry, which let’s face it, could do with the business. Next week, we’ll be looking at some of this country’s top boozy destinations.

And don’t forget that you can always take a holiday in a glass. Sip a Negroni in the sunshine, close your eyes and you could be in Rome. A glass of chilled sherry and some high quality ham, and you could be in a bar in Jerez. Who needs aeroplane travel when you’ve got next day delivery? 

Here are ten bottles to transport you to your favourite country

The Nightcap

Portugal: Taylor’s Chip Dry White Port

There’s no better place to watch the sun go down over Porto than on the terrace of the Yeatman Hotel, especially with a White Port & Tonic in your hands. This week on the blog, Lucy Britner looked at all the great things you can do with white Port, but you can’t beat an old classic. With its rich fruity and nutty taste, Taylor’s Chip Dry goes brilliantly with tonic, just make sure you use plenty of ice and add a sprig of rosemary and a slice of orange.

Tio Pepe Fino En Rama

Spain: Tio Pepe Sherry En Rama

Every year Gonzalez Byass releases a small quantity of Tio Pepe En Rama. This is dry Fino sherry pretty much as it tastes straight out of the barrel in Jerez, bottled with minimal filtering. It’s always a treat but this year’s release is absolute dynamite. It walks a bold line between big flavours of apples and hazelnuts, and the elegance that you’d expect from Tio Pepe. Just add some olives and cheese, and you’re in Andalucia. 

These delightful cocktails will transport you to your favourite holiday destination

Italy: Select Aperitivo

Aperol and Campari might be better known, but you can’t beat a drop of Select Aperitivo when you want some Italian magic. Select is the choice of Venetians, it’s been made in the city since the 1920s. The flavour profile is bitter and grown-up but a bit more delicate than Campari. We love drinking it in a Bicicletta – a mixture of ice, white wine and fizzy water. It’s the perfect lazing in the sun kind of drink.

Mijenta Tequila

Mexico: Mijenta Tequila Blanca

Well, we had to put a Tequila in there somewhere, we’re agave mad here at Master of Malt. We were particularly taken with this recently-launched brand. It’s made by Maestra Tequilera, Ana Maria Romero, and it’s a tasty drop laden with flavours of green olives, cinnamon spice and a delicious creamy texture. It does good, too, with some of the proceeds going to various charities in Mexico. Try it in a Blood Orange Margarita

Ricard Pastis

France: Ricard Pastis

Now this one is likely to be controversial because some people hate, really hate, the taste of aniseed. But for those who don’t, nothing is more evocative of the south of France than Ricard Pastis. Drink it slowly with ice and a jug of water on the side, and before you know it you’ll be contemplating buying a beret and one of those blue jackets that old French farmers wear, and whiling away the evening playing boule and discussing politics.  

Plantation XO

Barbados: Plantation XO rum

This has proved itself a favourite among Master of Malt customers over the years. It’s a well-aged Barbados rum from spirits master Alexandre Gabriel. It spends its first few years in ex-bourbon barrels in the Caribbean before being shipped to France for secondary maturation in Cognac casks. It’s then sweetened before bottling to make a mixing rum par excellence. We love it in a Mai Tai.

caipirinha Ableha Cachaca

Brazil: Abelha Cachaça

Brazil’s national drink, the Caipirinha, calls for cachaça, which is made from sugar cane juice rather than molasses to produce a pungent, grassy spirit that’s a bit like a rhum agricole. Much of the production is industrial but there are some smaller high quality producers like Abelha using organic sugar cane for something with a bit more character. 

Woodford Reserve Bourbon

America: Woodford Reserve bourbon

If you’re into cocktails, then you need at least one bottle of American whiskey in your drinks cabinet to make Manhattans, Old Fashioneds et al. Woodford Reserve is a great all-rounder. Unlike most bourbons it’s distilled in a pot rather than a column still. It also contains a high percentage of rye, 18%, with 72% corn and 10% malted barley, giving it a spicy, smooth and dry taste.

Inverroche Cocktail

South Africa: Inverroche Classic Gin

Many drinks claim to be a certain country in a bottle but Inveroche is literally South Africa in a bottle. It’s made by mother and son duo Lorna and Rohan Scott who use native South African plants called fynbos as botanicals to give you a gin that is infused with the taste of the Cape. This is the classic version, a dry gin, that makes a killer Martini, or a delicious Bramble.

Ming River

China: Ming River Sichuan Baijiu

If you really want to experience a different culture in a glass, there’s no better spirit than baijiu. It is one of the world’s most distinctive spirits, from the raw materials, sorghum, rice, millet and others, and production techniques involving fermentation over weeks and complex distillation methods. Some types can be a bit much for European taste buds, but Ming River produces a baijiu that is accessible and cocktail friendly.

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China’s baijiu giants: the most valuable drinks companies in the world

Looking for a hot share tip? Ian Buxton looks at whether you might be best off investing in China’s rapidly growing national spirit baijiu. The top three most valuable drinks…

Looking for a hot share tip? Ian Buxton looks at whether you might be best off investing in China’s rapidly growing national spirit baijiu. The top three most valuable drinks companies in the world are all Chinese, relegating the mighty Diageo to fourth place. Most of this growth is based on the domestic market but now baijiu is slowly taking off in the West.

Have you ever heard of Wuliangye Yibin Co. Ltd? No? Then perhaps you’re more familiar with the Jiangsu Yanghe Brewery Joint-Stock Co. Ltd.

As you’ve probably realised, they’re Chinese. What you may not know is that these companies are very large – some might say, huge. We’re hearing a lot more about Chinese businesses these days, whether it’s their impact on global supply chains, employment or environmental practices or their effect on their Western competitors and our economies.

Baijiu production at Ming River

Baijiu production at Ming River

The most valuable drinks companies in the world

In fact, if we look at the ten largest drinks companies in the world, ranked by market capitalisation, then remarkably three of them are Chinese. What’s more, they would have proved a great investment over the past year. Shares in the Jiangsu Yanghe Brewery have more or less doubled in the last twelve months, while investors in Wuliangye Yibin are toasting an increase of more than 130%.

By comparison, good old Diageo – well known to all readers for its Guinness, Johnnie Walker, Captain Morgan, Smirnoff, Gordon’s and a cluster of single malts, to name just a few of its brands – appear in a modest fourth place in the global ranking and its shares have managed to grow by less than 15%. Actually, considering what’s been going on recently, that might have been thought a reasonable performance until compared to the Chinese cohort.

A booming market

And I haven’t mentioned the world’s number one drinks business yet. Showing an annual growth in value of just over 100%; a market capitalisation of around US$450billion and assets of US$25.6bn, please give a big Master of Malt welcome to Kweichow Moutai Co. Ltd., with its headquarters in Renhuai, China. Even more remarkably, it’s not even located in a major centre: Renhuai is comparatively sparsely populated by Chinese standards, with fewer than 750,000 inhabitants in the relatively poor and economically undeveloped province of Guizhou.

Despite this, and despite the fact that around 97% of its sales remain within China, high-end bottles from Kweichow Moutai can and do sell for over $40,000. That’s Macallan pricing, serious money by any standards. A 1935 vintage bottle of Moutai, a brand that’s collected by investors and reportedly produced in small batches to maintain its air of exclusivity, has sold for £1.2 million ($1.7 million) at auction according to reports in Forbes.

Cocktail making with Fenjiu 10 Years Old

Baijiu companies like Fenjiu are using cocktails to appeal to Western drinkers

It’s baijiu!

So what’s going on? Well, it’s baijiu – the biggest-selling spirit you’ve may not have even heard of, let alone tried. For those who don’t know, baijiu is a clear, pungent high-alcohol liquid distilled from fermented sorghum, rice or other grains. It’s China’s national spirit, typically purchased by the bottle and drunk as shots. It appears in the home, at business dinners and state banquets and is widely employed in the Chinese tradition of gifting. Some adherents also hold that it has medicinal properties and can strengthen the immune system – handy right now, though not a view endorsed by conventional medical science.

Sales have rocketed recently. And while Western drinks companies try to build their small foothold in China, leading Chinese brands are now trying to take baijiu onto the international stage. Take Ming River Sichuan Baijiu, already available in European markets and launching soon in two dozen US states in a partnership with Sazerac. Others will surely follow – in fact, Master of Malt already offers seven different brands at prices from £30 to over £160.

Just as Indian beers and single malt whiskies initially gained a foothold in Indian restaurants and then expanded their reach to the wider market, expect to encounter baijiu first in Chinese restaurants where it can be enjoyed with food and shortly afterwards anticipate it on specialists’ shelves. But whether you develop a taste for baijiu’s unique charms or not, you might want to call your stockbroker.

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Ming River wants you to give Baijiu a chance

It might be the biggest selling spirit in the world, but baijiu is the drink of choice in China alone. Ming River wants to change that. Baijiu is big. The spirit is…

It might be the biggest selling spirit in the world, but baijiu is the drink of choice in China alone. Ming River wants to change that.

Baijiu is big. The spirit is produced in around 14,000 distilleries. It accounts for one-third of the world’s total consumption of distilled spirits. Over 11 billion litres of it was sold in 2019, more than the total of whisky, vodka, gin, rum and Tequila combined. So it’s never needed a market outside China. It’s doing perfectly well without the rest of the world.

And yet, Diageo has invested in the spirit, a new generation of overseas producers are putting their own twist on the drink and brands are being created to bring baijiu (pronounced ‘bye-Joe’) to a new audience. There is a feeling that there’s untapped potential and, as drinking culture becomes more global and Chinese society becomes increasingly international, the demand for a versatile, complex and deeply cultural booze will be there once people understand it and acquire the taste. Or that’s the theory, anyway.

That’s where Ming River comes in. It’s an almost supergroup of a brand that’s brought together the know-how of some of the spirit’s greatest educators and the pedigree of Lúzhōu Lǎo Jiào, China’s longest continuously operating distillery. It was created after Simon Dang, Matthias Heger, Bill Isler and Derek Sandhaus opened a baijiu bar in Beijing that demonstrated two things: 1) the spirit could be appreciated in cocktails and 2) that foreigners could be wooed with the right education and approach. This ability to introduce baijiu to new drinkers led Lúzhōu Lǎo Jiào to propose making a product with international appeal.

Ming River

Baijiu has been produced at Lúzhōu Lǎo Jiào Distillery for a seriously long time

“We agreed to form a joint venture that became Ming River, which is really the first international baijiu brand created by one of China’s reputable distilleries,” Sandhaus explains. He literally wrote the book on baijiu. Twice. So he’s as good a person as any to demystify the category. “The word baijiu literally means ‘white spirits’ and is a category that encompasses all traditional Chinese grain spirits. It’s most commonly distilled from sorghum, but can also be made from rice, wheat, corn and millet,” Sandhaus explains. “China classifies it into four aroma categories, the full-bodied, spicy, fruity strong aroma baijiu (what Ming River is), the floral and sweet light aroma, sauce aroma, which has an umami, earthy profile and the clean and honeyed rice aroma”.

What distinguishes baijiu most from other spirits, however, is a production process of solid-state fermentation and distillation. At Lúzhōu Lǎo Jiào, this begins with locally harvested red sorghum grain and water from protected wells. This mix is fermented in earthen pits sprinkled with naturally harvested yeast cultures called ‘qu’ (pronounced ‘chew’) which are native to Luzhou that impart a distinctive terroir. “Qu is big bricks made of wheat which are mashed with water and left in a controlled environment for months to absorb yeast and bacteria,” Sandhaus explains. “When you add to the grain, it breaks down the starches and converts those sugars into alcohol, adding a lot of natural flavours”.

It’s a similar process to the use of muck pits in Jamaican rum and it’s said that to create the best strong-aroma baijiu, you need a pit that’s at least 30 years old. Lúzhōu Lǎo Jiào has over 1,600  giant solera‐like fermentation pits that are at least 100 years old and some that date back to 1573, all drawing character from a microbiological ecosystem developed over centuries. “It creates a unique culture. At the top of the pit, you have a dry, low-alcohol mash and at the bottom, it’s increasingly more alcoholic and moist, which is of superior quality. This is where continuous mashing comes into play,” Sandhaus says. “You distil the top layer and keep the baijiu, then you take the lower mash, add fresh sorghum and distil it together in small batches. You then add more qu to this mix of fermented mash and freshly-steamed sorghum and put it back in the pits. It’s a process of fermenting and distilling over and over again until the spirits are ready to be aged for up to two years, before being blended to maximise complexity and balance the various flavours”.

Ming River

The earthen pits are sealed with mud and then nature takes it course

The unique way in which baijiu is made accounts for why it tastes radically different from the kind of spirits you might be used to, which is why Sandhaus believes the greatest challenge baijiu faces is one of educating consumers. “They aren’t accustomed to its profile so they think there is something ‘off’ about it or a mistake has been made, when in fact that is what the producers are trying to make. The comparison I would give is like if your introduction to Scotch whisky was someone maybe drinking an entire bottle of Laphroaig,” he says. “The products themselves are less challenging than people think they are, especially when presented in a cocktail. You have to introduce it to them in the right context”. 

Luckily this is an era in which people are embracing what were once deemed challenging flavours and Ming River’s profile of strong tropical fruits, floral elements and a rindy, farmyard funk note should appeal to fans of mezcal, cachaça and, in particular, high-ester Jamaican rum and Springbank whisky. For cocktails, those tropical notes naturally lend it to Tiki-style serves like Mai Tais, Piña Coladas and Daiquiris and food is also a great way to open the door to baijiu. “Chinese drinking culture is a communal activity that goes back to the very beginnings of its civilization and alcohol has always been part of the culinary tradition,” says Sandhaus. “Those strong flavours that are intended to balance out the flavours of the food, which in the Sichuan region where Ming River is from, tends to be bold and spicy, with lots of chilis, ginger and garlic”. 

I think Ming River has got the package right. The branding is clear and informative, the provenance, craft and history of the distillery is compelling and the baijiu itself is, well, really tasty. It’s encouraging to hear then, that the reception has been overwhelmingly positive. “There are still some people who try it and they say ‘this isn’t for me’ and that’s fine, but we’ve been a hit in both modern Asian restaurants and craft cocktail bars,” Sandhaus says. “Ming River has resonated with people from a cultural Chinese background looking for a way to connect with drinks that are part of their heritage and plenty of people in the West who are happy to drink a Chinese product when it’s presented to them the right way”.

Ming River

Ming River Sichuan Baijiu Tasting Note:

Nose: Big, estery notes of tropical fruit leads with pineapple cubes, guava and mango juice which fennel, liquorice and dried herbs complement. Throughout there are complex hints of Roquefort, clove, salted meat and farmyard funk which balance the sweeter notes of fizzy strawberry laces, banana milkshake and marshmallows.

Palate: Blackcurrant lozenge, star anise, pink pepper, green apple and charred pepper joins the array of tropical fruits (papaya and pineapple) that carry over from the nose.

Finish: Full of funk (damp earth mostly) with some salinity adding great contrast to the lingering fruity sweetness. 

Ming River

The Sichuan Daiquiri

Sichan Daiquiri

25ml of Ming River Sichuan Baijiu

25ml of dark rum

30ml of lime juice

20ml of simple syrup

2 bar spoons of Sichuan peppercorns (optional)

Shake and fine strain, then garnish with a mint sprig and lime wheel.

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Meet the man making baijiu. . . in Britain

When MoM caught wind that third generation farmer and fruit grower Pete Thompson had started producing China’s national drink, baijiu, right here in the UK – using 100% British-grown sorghum,…

When MoM caught wind that third generation farmer and fruit grower Pete Thompson had started producing China’s national drink, baijiu, right here in the UK – using 100% British-grown sorghum, no less – our ears pricked up. Here, we talk crispy seaweed, closed-loop farming, and his partnership with the experimental English Spirit Distillery….

The adage ‘when life gives you lemons, make lemonade’ applies in a very literal sense to Essex-based farmer and fruit grower Pete Thompson. After he lost an apricot crop to frost, leaving him with a very small amount of the fruit come harvest time, he did what any one of us would do in such a situation: make apricot-infused gin. Reliquum Spirits was born. From there – in collaboration with the English Spirit Distillery – Thompson went on to release a small range of fruit-soaked boozes, from a London Dry gin infused with calamondin tree fruit grown on his farm to an Opal apple brandy aged in red wine barrels made from French Trombais oak. His latest project? Baijiu. 

Looks like an orange but it’s actually a calamondin aka Philippine lime

“We’ve been supplying and working with the UK’s Chinese wholesale food service sector for donkey’s years,” Thompson explains. “We supply 90 plus per cent of the UK’s crispy seaweed* to Chinese restaurants – all grown here, all year round.” Even so, when Dr John Walters, master distiller at the English Spirit Distillery, suggested Thompson create a baijiu, his initial response was a resounding ‘no’. “I’ve been through various long dinners with my Chinese customers where I’ve been force fed baijiu at the end, and if I do have memories, they’re not very good ones,” he explains. “But John said, ‘No, wait! We can make something beautiful here.”

They went away separately to do research – Thompson on the farm, Dr Walters in the distillery – and find out more about producing the Chinese spirit. For those new to baijiu, it has a pretty unique production process compared to vodka, whisky, Tequila and so on. Steamed sorghum grains and water are mixed with a fermentation agent called jiuqu or ‘qu’ – “I say it’s like a sourdough starter,” Thompson explains – and aged in an underground pit or buried jar for anywhere between one month and 30 years. First, the team looked into the raw ingredients.

“Lots of farmers, ourselves included, have wildflower mixes around the farm for birds, and sorghum is quite a popular one in them,” says Thompson. “So we knew it could grow here. Then we looked at how it’s made in China, in the earth pits. The fermentation process is complicated and potentially dangerous because of the chemicals you can produce.”

Thompson's baijiu

Thompson’s baijiu in Chinatown

There are different types of qu for different styles of baijiu – ‘big qu’ might be made from wheat, whereas ‘small qu’ is typically made from rice. Thompson and the English Distillery team took an altogether different approach, mimicking the traditional processes used in baijiu production through laboratory conditions. “We analysed qu to find out which enzymes are in it,” Thompson continues. “We used chemical analysis to find out which enzymes are in qu, and then developed the enzymes that we needed. I can’t give you too much detail on the qu itself, and I won’t reveal which enzymes they are, but we’re essentially mirroring the traditional process in UK laboratory conditions to meet with food hygiene and food safety standards.”

After the fermentation period, the mix is distilled in small batches and bottled at 50% ABV. With such a diverse flavour profile to pick from, how does Thompson’s Baijiu – the name of the bottling – taste? “It has that umami, almost savoury note that you’d expect from a good baijiu, along with earthy, smoky notes,” he says. When people try it, they compare it to mezcal or Islay whisky. We never set out to create another Maotai – we wanted something uniquely British.”

When it comes to pouring, Thompson’s baijiu is intended to be as versatile (and accessible) as possible. “It works as a traditional shot, knocking it down as you would after a dinner in China,” Thompson explains. “It’s smooth and doesn’t burn the back of the throat, so you can also sip it like you would a very good mezcal or malt. But it’s also really interesting as a long drink and as a cocktail mixer as well.”

With baijiu under his belt, what’s next in Thompson’s spirited endeavours? “I think everyone will shoot me if I decide to do something else,” he laughs. “Though somebody did recently ask me about South American flavours in our innovation work. We do have some interesting South American herbs, so you never know, we might go to South America after Asia.”

* It’s actually a special type of cabbage.

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Fenjiu, baijiu for beginners

Despite being one of the bestselling spirits in the world, baijiu has not had much commercial success outside Chinese markets. But one state-owned producer, Fenjiu, has its eyes firmly on…

Despite being one of the bestselling spirits in the world, baijiu has not had much commercial success outside Chinese markets. But one state-owned producer, Fenjiu, has its eyes firmly on Western markets with an accessible, cocktail-friendly spirit. We spoke with Qiqi Chen, MD at the UK distributor, to find out more.

Whenever the subject of baijiu comes up, someone will pull a face and say how disgusting the Chinese spirit is. It seems like one of those things, like the rotten shark flesh that’s popular in Nordic countries, that will always struggle to cross cultures. But, as I learned at an event at the Excel in London, baijiu (pronounced ‘buy Joe’) is a very broad church. The occasion was the World Chinese Entrepreneurs Convention: there were western companies like Aston Martin, Barratt Homes and Lindores Distillery looking to sell to the Chinese, and Chinese companies looking to sell into western markets. At one point a crowd of dignitaries interrupted my tasting, apparently Liz Truss had arrived. I got excited thinking it was the author of Eats, Shoots and Leaves, but apparently she’s the business secretary or something, and was showing around the Chinese ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming.

Team Fenjiu: QiQi Chen on far right, next to her, Andrea Dionori

Aiming to change people’s perceptions of baijiu is Qiqi Chen, MD of Cheng International, the distributor of Fenjiu in the UK. She trained with William Curley, the chocolatier, and speaks excellent, London-accented English. Before we did any tasting, she explained a little about baijiu. There are four main types with different production methods: light aroma, rice, strong aroma and sauce aroma.. The last two are particularly funky and may be to blame for people’s prejudices against the spirit. “Some categories of baijiu available in the west are very heavy, very soya,” she told me. “There’s a big culture clash. Maybe you’ll be ready for them in 20-30 years, but that’s not something you start with.” She compared it with starting your Scotch whisky journey with Islay single malt.

Another reason some might be wary of baijiu is because many people, particularly journalists, have only tried it as guests at a Chinese feast and had a bit too much to drink. It’s the local hospitality: “We want to make you happy so we encourage you to drink,” she said. “We don’t drink like that every day.” 

She works with Fenjiu, a state-owned enterprise with a long history. It is based in Fenyang in Shanxi province in northern China. Apparently, the company and the spirit date back 6,000 years, though there is no evidence that the Chinese were distilling alcohol much before the 13th century AD. But what is clear is that alcohol has been made from local grains here for a very long time. 

Sorghum

Preparing the Sorghum for Fermentation

Production methods:

The techniques used to make Fenjiu are worth explaining. It is made from sorghum. First the grains are steamed for eight hours until they form a sort of jelly. Then they are fermented using a starter culture called daqu. This is made from a mixture of peas and barley which are formed into bricks and left to mature for three months. Fermentation takes place over 28 days in pits which are never cleaned and waste from distillation is added to them. So, rather like the dunder pits used to make high-ester Jamaican rum, you’re going to get lots of yeast and bacteria, and lots of wild flavours. 

Distillation takes place in a stainless steel pot still. At Fenjiu, two batches are made. Solid fermented sorghum is layered in the still and the first batch is distilled once. The heads are added back for redistillation. The heart is then kept aside. Then more fermented sorghum is added to any undistilled mash and re-fermented. This is then distilled with the tails from the first batch. The two batches are blended together and aged in clay jars to mature. The colour doesn’t change with age but the spirit does mellow, becoming more acidic. The spirit is then diluted with spring water and marketed under age statements such as 30 years old (not a minimum age, more like an average).

Tasting the baijiu:

We tasted the baijiu out of traditional bamboo (actually made from china) cups. Gingerly, I took the first sip of the 30 year old Fenjiu. And you know what? It’s not half bad. There was definitely a funky edge with earthy notes, vinegar and some acetone, but it had the most delicious umami texture and is incredibly complex. The flavour builds with each sip. I tried some other age statements too, and they varied in intensity and ABV but all had wonderful aromatic notes of jasmine, eucalyptus, and that texture. Chen said: “Light aroma baijiu is similar to what western people have been drinking, but at the same time different.” 

The Fenjiu range

Next we moved on to the flavoured baijiu. There was a honey one that had something of the Drambuie about it, and then two bamboo-flavoured ones: a ten year old, with grassy funky flavours akin to a rhum agricole and an intensely-flavoured 30 year old which came across like Green Chartreuse

In China, these are all drunk neat but, in May last year Fenjiu announced a cocktail competition in order to open up western markets,. The winner was Italian bartender Andrea Dionori from Milroy’s of Soho. He now works as a brand ambassador for Fenjiu and gave me some cocktails to try. Baijiu can be tricky to mix, according to Dionori. That creamy texture comes from ethyl lactate; dilute it too much and you lose the creaminess and just get acetone, but “add water and you make it harsher,” he said. One cocktail made with 10 year old Fenjiu blended with Cocchi Americano and lychees was odd but not unpleasant with the tang of the baijiu coming through strongly. More successful was a blend of five year old bamboo-flavoured spirit with bitters and ginger ale.

The aim with the cocktail competition and food pairing initiatives, such as a collaboration with her former employer William Curley, Chen told me, is to change baijiu’s hard-drinking image to make it “more sophisticated and appeal to younger, trendy consumers.” It’s clearly the work of years but baijiu is not going to go away, so it might be time you lost your fear. Fenjiu is the perfect place to start.

In celebration of Chinese New Year, Fenjiu will be taking over Harry Gordon’s Bar at Selfridges in London until 2 February offering baijiu tastings and cocktails.

 

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The Nightcap: 1 March

Pinch, punch, the first of the month, March is here! Happy St. David’s Day if you’re celebrating, and happy weekend, too! But before you crack on with the festivities, we’ve…

Pinch, punch, the first of the month, March is here! Happy St. David’s Day if you’re celebrating, and happy weekend, too! But before you crack on with the festivities, we’ve got all the booze news stories you need from the week that was.

Spring has sprung! Birds are singing, the daffodils are out… and this week MoM HQ has been sweltering in temperatures most usually seen in July. We’ve cracked out the Highballs, the floral gins, the light mark rums, and we’ve had a lovely time (global warming concerns aside). But it’s not all been high-jinks – there have been news and features aplenty, too!

First up, our Annie met Jim Meehan, co-founder of Banks Rums, and she also checked out Muyu, a new Amazon-inspired liqueur for liquid luminaries Monica Berg, Alex Kratena and Simone Caporale. Then Henry shared an Ardbeg tasting sesh – he put his palate through its paces with Brendan McCarron, who looks after the maturing whisky stocks at both Glenmorangie and Ardbeg. But that wasn’t enough for Henry – he then limbered up his nose with The Balvenie’s Alwynne Gwilt. What a week!

But we’re not done yet. Adam travelled to London to get the lowdown on Glen Grant from superfan Jim Murray (yes, the Mr Murray), and Our Cocktail of the Week was the Elderflower Collins. Oh, and we investigated the most delicious gins on the globe following the announcement of the World Gin Awards 2019. And we revealed what this month’s Dram Club members will be discovering in their boxes! We are good to you.

But what else has happened in the world of booze? LOADS, that’s what. Don’t believe us? Just read on, my friend.

We can’t wait to see the transformed Bunnahabhain distillery

Bunnahabhain gets £10.5 million distillery revamp

Islay fans: we have big distillery news. Bunnahabhain, tucked away on the island’s north coast, is in the throes of a significant expansion project! The £10.5 million transformation, funded by parent company Distell International, will see the creation of a ‘brand home’ and visitor centre complete with a shop and café overlooking the stunning Sound of Islay. Also new will be a shiny filling store, while the production building and cottages will be restored, creating on-site holiday accommodation. A number of original distillery buildings will be also be revived, while others, notably old warehouses, will be removed to make room for the new buildings, and improve operational flow. Work is already underway, with an impressive 99% of materials removed already repurposed for use on-site. “The plans aim to make the navigation of the site much easier for the visitor and to, in simple terms, declutter it,” said Derek Scott, Distell’s brand director for malts. He continued: “As the most remote and northerly distillery on the island, our transformation will give those who have made the journey time to pause, forget about the rest of the world and enjoy the serene surroundings.” The visitor centre should be ready in time for the 2020 season – we can’t wait.

Hopefully things will begin to look up for the Gautier Cognac parent

La Martiniquaise owner to take over most of Marie Brizard

French drinks group Marie Brizard Wine & Spirits looks likely to be taken over by main shareholder COFEPP, hopefully concluding a troubled couple of years for the Gautier Cognac and Sobieski vodka parent. In a statement, the company said the French authorities had approved the COFEPP bid, as long as certain conditions are met. These include selling off Porto Pitters and Ticaz Tequila to meet competition concerns. It’s an interesting move for COFEPP, which already owns both La Martiniquaise and Bardinet (think: Glen Moray single malt Scotch, Label 5 blended Scotch, Saint James rum and Poliakov vodka). Could France be about to see a new super-power drinks group take shape?

One of Port Ellen’s oldest, and most exciting, releases.

Port Ellen releases a 39 year old single malt

In a move that will get Scotch whisky lovers salivating, Diageo has announced that it will release a 39 year old single malt from Port Ellen in April. This is one of the oldest ever releases from the distillery that closed in 1983 (but is scheduled to start distilling again in 2021). The new release is grandly called Port Ellen: Untold Stories The Spirit Safe, and is the first in a new series of releases called the Untold Stories Series. It has been matured in both American oak ex-bourbon and European oak ex-sherry refill casks. “This release has been selected from a small number of casks, it is very different to other Port Ellen releases,” said Tom Jones, global prestige brand ambassador. It’s being released at 50.9% ABV and only 1,500 bottles have been filled. As you’d expect from perhaps the most in-demand ghost distillery in the world, it’s expensive, weighing in at £4,500 (although something of a bargain compared with some recent Macallan bottlings…).

Too much paperwork means less time to spend on wine

Spare a thought for wine inspectors set to ‘drown in paperwork’

Yep, more Brexit news, folks. The Wine & Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) has issued yet more warnings as part of its #NoToNoDeal campaign. The association is claiming that wine inspectors will be left ‘drowning in paperwork’ in the event of a no-deal Brexit, with red tape expected to result in 600,000 additional forms. The cost of all this extra admin? £70 million, according to WSTA stats. Why? Importers will need oodles more boxes to be ticked, from laboratory tests to potential tariffs. V1 forms – currently required for wines coming in from outside the EU – cost £20 per form, and must be filled in by hand. Best stock up on ink cartridges, as 55% of wine consumed in the UK comes from the EU. “The additional form filling and laboratory tests required for a no deal scenario will come as a real blow to exporters and importers alike,” said Miles Beale, WSTA chief exec. “Wine inspectors will find themselves drowning in paperwork and – unless they can double their workforce – wine consignments are going to be held up by unnecessary additional red tape. The reality is that if we leave the EU without a deal, wine businesses, big and small, will be facing a catalogue of extra costs which will ultimately be passed onto the British consumer.” But there’s no need to panic – by all accounts, importers are already stocking up. The wine should keep flowing.

Say hello to the wonderful Method and Madness Gin!

First release of Method and Madness Gin

Irish Distillers has unveiled Method and Madness Gin, the micro-distillery’s inaugural gin release! The bottling pays homage to the historic links to gin in Cork, while also pushing the modern boundaries of (g)innovation. The spirit was predominantly based around Irish Distillers’ pot still Cork Crimson Gin in 2005, which also took inspiration from traditional recipes dating back to 1798, found in a notebook kept in the distillery. It is distilled in ‘Mickey’s Belly’, Ireland’s oldest gin still, first commissioned at the site in 1958. The equipment is named after Michael Hurley, who was a distiller at Midleton for 45 years. Both he and the still came from Cork to Midleton, and so it was christened. The earthy citrus gin marries 16 botanicals, and Henry Donnelly, apprentice distiller, commented that to “combine the knowledge and tools of the past with the skills of the present to create a gin for the future has been a real honour”. The range is a fine use of Shakespeare’s iconic line, we’d say. Method and Madness gin is available in Ireland and global travel retail from March, and will be released globally from July.

Campbell Brown, who shouldn’t have any trouble finding a dram to toast this success

Double-win for Brown-Forman at the 2019 Icons of Whisky America Awards

What’s better than one award? Two awards, of course! The Brown-Forman Corporation will know all about that after Whisky Magazine has named the company Distiller of the Year and Juan Merizalde Carrillo of Old Forester Distilling Co. as Distillery Manager of the Year at the 2019 Icons of Whisky America Awards! Brown-Forman will now hope they can repeat the trick at Global Icons of Whisky presented in London this spring, where competition will come from contemporaries in Whisky Magazine’s other regions; Australia, India, Ireland, Rest of World and Scotland. “We are honoured to receive this award in recognition of our almost 150-year history as distillers and for our contributions and commitments to the spirits industry,” said Lawson Whiting, Brown-Forman CEO. “We continue to craft American whiskeys the best way we know how – with care, patience, and pride.” Campbell Brown, president of Old Forester added. “We are proud to celebrate Juan who is a great contributor to the success of Old Forester. Juan’s balance of technical expertise and passion for crafting great bourbon ensures that the Old Forester promise is as it has always been – to produce bourbon of the finest quality and utmost consistency.” Congratulations guys! I think a celebratory dram is in order…

 

Penderyn celebrates Welsh whisky ancestors on St David’s Day

Patriotic Penderyn has made a habit of honouring the patron saint of Wales with great whisky, and that’s not about to stop this year. The first distillery in Wales for 100 years has created a new Penderyn ‘Icons of Wales‘ single malt expression, the sixth edition in the series. Named Penderyn Royal Welsh Whisky as a nod to its distilling predecessors, the previous Welsh Whisky Company, it’s a peated whisky with a port wood finish that was bottled at 43% ABV. It was modelled on an original 19th century bottle that became the Royal Welsh Whisky after it received a royal warrant on 26 July 1895 (Queen Vic was obviously impressed on her 1891 visit). However, the company was wound up in 1903 after period of difficulty and little is now known about the original whisky. Adverts state that it was a five-year-old peated malt and, rather fancifully, was “the most wonderful whisky that ever drove the skeleton from the feast, or painted landscapes in the brain of man”. Little wonder bottles of Royal Welsh Whisky now sell for several thousand pounds! Stephen Davies, managing director of Penderyn, commented: “This is a great chance to celebrate Wales’ whisky heritage and the original Welsh Whisky company at Frongoch. Creating a global brand is a massive challenge, and we are proud to create award-winning whiskies which travel from Wales to the world, and this bottle pays homage to those early Welsh whisky pioneers.” Penderyn Royal Welsh Whisky is priced at £45 and sounds royally delicious – Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus, everyone!

Diageo just can’t get enough of this stuff!

Diageo gets taste for baijiu, wants more of Shui Jing Fang

Last year we reported that Diageo wanted in on the baijiu action, upping its stake in producer Shui Jing Fang from 39.7% to 60%. This week, the company confirmed it is after more, and has made an offer to increase its shareholding to 70%. And given baijiu’s popularity, it’s an interesting move. The Chinese white spirit is the most widely-consumed liquor in the world – and is the most valuable (yes, even beating whisky!). According to the 2018 Brand Finance Spirits 50 report, baijiu brand Moutai alone is worth a whopping US$21.2 billion. By comparison, Johnnie Walker, the world’s most valuable Scotch brand, is worth US$4.3bn. The time for baijiu has come!

Books and booze are a brilliant combination

The Bloomsbury Club Bar unveils literary cocktails for World Book Day

A good book plus a delicious dram? We’ve fallen in love all over again with that simple joy recently. So when news reached us that London’s The Bloomsbury Club Bar has created a literary-themed cocktail menu for World Book Day on 7 March, we were all ears. To honour the Bloomsbury Set of writers, philosophers and artists, the bar is encouraging guests to bring in a paperback book which they can trade for a complimentary cocktail. The books will then be donated to a local charitable bookshop! The four cocktails on the special menu include the mysteriously smoking JK Rowling, make with Chivas Regal 12 Year Old, ginger, honey, lemon, and Lapsang tea aroma; and the Roald Dahl, crafted with Havana Club Seleccion de Maestros, peach liqueur, dry vermouth, and grenadine, and comes complete with a giant chocolate ear. Other authors in the line-up include TS Eliot and Charles Dickens. The whole thing was developed by newly-appointed head bartender Scott Gavin in partnership with drinks group Pernod Ricard. Can’t bear to give up a beloved book? You can still enjoy a serve, you’ll just have to part with £12 instead.

BrewDog takes to the skies

And finally… BrewDog Airlines takes off

Not content with making beer, running pubs and launching a hotel, self-effacing Scottish brewer BrewDog has now taken to the skies. This week, the inaugural flight of BrewDog Airlines took off from London Stansted to Columbus, Ohio. On board, a group of paying customers along with a smattering of journalists were treated to a selection of brews, including an IPA especially designed to taste good at altitude. One of the lucky few was award-winning beer writer Adrian Tierney-Jones who told us it was a very jolly experience: “everyone was very well behaved. I’ve seen more pissed people on a flight to Tenerife.” The only slight problem was that the lavatory tanks on the Boeing 767 weren’t designed to cope with all the, ahem, liquid produced by 200 British beer lovers. Tierney-Jones tweeted on landing: “Loos had to close two hours before landing such was the volume of micturition…” Apparently there were some serious queues for the toilets when they landed. We can picture the debrief at BrewDog HQ: “We’re going to need a bigger plane.”

Have a marvellous weekend, folks!

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Diageo eyes Baijiu boom with potential Shui Jing Fang investment

Diageo has proposed upping its stake in the company that makes premium baijiu brand Shui Jing Fang. Could there be a baijiu boom on the way? Do you fancy getting…

Diageo has proposed upping its stake in the company that makes premium baijiu brand Shui Jing Fang. Could there be a baijiu boom on the way? Do you fancy getting ahead of the curve like the hip specimen you are? We take a gander…

Earlier this week, drinks giant Diageo shared the news that it has proposed a plan to increase its stake in Sichuan Shuijingfang, a baijiu producer based in Chengdu, China. While the drinks giant currently holds a 39.71% equity stake in the producer, it could top it up to 60% if the move comes off.

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