Baijiu Drinking in China

Baijiu is a kind of Chinese liquor made from grain, which literally means “white (clear) alcohol” or liquor. It is a clear liquid usually distilled from fermented sorghum, although other grains may be used; some southeastern Chinese styles may employ rice or glutinous rice, while other Chinese varieties may use wheat, barley, millet in their mash bills. The qū starter culture used in the production of baijiu is usually made from pulverized wheat grain or steamed rice. Ranging from 40 to a whopping 60% alcohol by volume content, the national liquor is not for the faint of heart. 

History of Baijiu

Chinese liquor is one of the six world-famous varieties of spirits (the other five being brandy, whisky, rum, vodka, and gin. It began to resemble its original form around 1368. So liquor has been distilled in China since at least the Yuan Dynasty, though baijiu began to resemble its current form around the Ming Dynasty. Baijiu is characterized by solid-state fermentation and distillation using a grain culture called qū, which allows for simultaneous saccharification and fermentation. This is a typical feature of liquors produced in the Far East.

Serving of Baijiu

According to the Chinese tradition, Baijiu is served neat at the room temperature. It is a tradition to drink Baijiu in small cup or glasses with food rather than on its own. Actually, it is the most popular drink in China thus becoming one of the most consumed spirits in the whole World! The expense of a bottled Baijiu is the roughly same price as a can of beer. The Baijiu which is aged for many years may cost high as per the quality.

Classification of Baijiu

The Chinese government classifies Baijiu linguistically by its aroma, though styles are distinguished by production methods, ingredients and other regional variations. Baijiu has a distinctive smell and taste that is highly valued in Chinese culinary culture, and connoisseurs focus especially on its fragrance. This classification system began in 1952 and was updated in August 1979 at the third nationwide Baijiu competition held in the city of Dalian. Even so, during the competition, experts rated various Baijiu based on their taste rather than aroma. The four major categories of Baijiu are strong aroma, light aroma, sauce aroma, and rice aroma. 

  • Strong Aroma: A highly fragrant distilled sorghum liquor of bold character, named for its similarity in flavor to Chinese fermented bean pastes and soy sauces. The most popular brand, Moutai, is the most expensive type of baijiu. A batch of Moutai has to go through rounds of subterranean fermentation so it usually takes a year to produce.
  • Light Aroma: Most liquors of this class are distilled from sorghum, sometimes in combination with other grains, continuously fermented in mud pits. This style dominates the north, especially around Beijing. Fermented solely from sorghum, the light aroma isn’t matched by ABVs as high as 56%. 
  • Sauce Aroma: China’s most popular baijiu is produced with at least two different grains and fermented in mud pits, giving it a more complex and almost overripe flavor. A fine example is Luzhou Laojiao, a distillery that brews the spirit of the same name and is one of the oldest still in production (from 1573).
  • Rice Aroma: Originating in southern Guangxi province, this is probably the lightest among the four types. Unlike other baijiu styles, it’s made from rice, which gives it a sweet, floral tone. The character of this class of liquor is exemplified by baijiu distilled from rice, such as Sanhuajiu from Guilin. 

Brands of Baijiu

  • Wuliangye: A strong, aged distilled liquor produced in the city of Yibin in southern Sichuan. 
  • Moutai: This liquor has a production history of over 200 years, and originally coming from the town of Maotai in Guizhou.
  • Jian Lan Chun: It is a famous traditional Chinese wine, which is produced in Mianzhu city, Sichuan province. 
  • Gujinggongjiu: It is a traditional Chinese liquor made from water from a well in Bozhou, Anhui Province. 
  • Yanghe: Yanghe Daqu began to flourish in the Ming and Qing dynasties uses only the highest quality sorghum as a base and only the best wheat, barley and peas as high-temperature fermenting agents.