What Is Baijiu And How Do You Drink It?


Baijiu, a clear and potent spirit, has surged in popularity on Western cocktail menus, yet its roots run deep in Chinese history, spanning thousands of years and retaining a significant presence in Chinese culture today.

What Is Baijiu And How Do You Drink It?

Baijiu is a strong Chinese spirit with a long history, dating back thousands of years. It’s distilled from grains and rice, and has played a significant role in Chinese culture. The production of this clear liquor began before the 2nd century BCE, and the process has remained largely unchanged. It’s not just a potent drink; it’s a cultural experience with deep roots in Chinese tradition.

The history of baijiu dates back to 7000-5000 BCE, and it later spread throughout China between 1644 and 1948. After the establishment of The People’s Republic of China in 1949, the government modernized the production of baijiu, leading to national brands and its increased popularity.

Baijiu is made by fermenting cooked sorghum with a yeast starter, resulting in a distinctive flavor. However, it contains a high alcohol content ranging from 80% to 120%, making it unsuitable for inexperienced drinkers. The taste of baijiu is complex and varies depending on the type. Westerners have described it as having a funky, sweet fruit flavor with nutty undertones.

When consuming baijiu, it’s important to be mindful of its high alcohol content. In China, drinking baijiu is often part of business and social interactions, and etiquette is important. For those unfamiliar with baijiu, it’s best enjoyed in a cocktail at a local bar, appreciating the rich history and culture behind this ancient spirit.

The Making of Baijiu

The production process involves fermenting cooked sorghum with a yeast starter called jiu qu, leading to the distinct flavors that characterize baijiu. The resulting beverage, known for its potency, typically boasts an alcohol by volume (ABV) ranging from 80% to 120%, making it a formidable choice even for seasoned drinkers.

A Taste Like No Other

Describing the flavor of baijiu proves challenging, with Westerners likening it to a combination of funky, sweet fruit with nutty undertones, while others note hints of soy sauce and unique aromas. With a diverse range of characteristics, baijiu offers a complex tasting experience.

Baijiu in Chinese Culture

Baijiu’s prominence in Chinese culture extends beyond its flavors, as it often plays a central role in social and business settings. The spirit holds great significance in Chinese etiquette and business interactions, where sharing a drink is often an integral part of fostering connections and preserving honor.

In conclusion, baijiu is more than a beverage—it encapsulates millennia of Chinese heritage and is an essential component of social and cultural gatherings, showcasing its enduring influence across generations.

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