Baijiu is the most popular spirit in the world, in terms of units sold. Despite this, most non-Chinese nationals know very little about it. See below for some of the most frequently asked questions about baijiu.
How Do I Pronounce Baijiu?
Baijiu is pronounced By-Joe in English. This translation of the Chinese-language word, which means, “clear liquor.”
Is Baijiu a Brand Name?
No, baijiu is the name of a spirit. However, this puts it on par with rum, vodka or whiskey. There are many different brands of baijiu available.
What is Baijiu Made of?
See Also: Baijiu Ingredients
Baijiu has a number of core ingredients. The most important of these is a grain source. This is typically sorghum or rice. The choice of grain will impact upon the flavour and aroma of the baijiu, so it varies between distilleries.
In addition to grain, jiuqu, or simply qu (pronounced chew), is pivotal to the process of making baijiu. Qu is made from grain, and ensures that the baijiu converts starch into alcohol.
In addition to these essential ingredients, many distilleries add their own optional flourishes for taste. These could include any number of medicinal herbs, or other ingredients designed to create a unique taste.
How is Baijiu Made?
See Also: How to Make Baijiu.
The production of baijiu is divided into six key steps.
- Preparing the Ingredients. This step simply involves the sourcing of the grains, rice and herbs that will make up the baijiu, and washing them thoroughly. These ingredients will then be steamed of mashed.
- Preparing the Qu. The ingredients of the qu used in the baijiu must be sourced, mixed and incubated. This process typically takes around a month.
- Saccharifaction. Ground qu and water are then added to the baijiu’s core ingredients. This converts the starches found in the grains and rice into sugar.
- Fermentation. During fermentation, yeast feeds upon the qu and grains found in the baijiu mix and converts them to alcohol. How a baijiu is fermented varies from one producer to the other. The most important part of this process is that the mix is kept in a secure, dry location. Some producers of baijiu bury their mixture in an underground pit, stored in ceramic jars. Others settle for a room, akin to a wine cellar. Some producers will also interrupt and extend the process by periodically adding more qu and grains. Others will just allow the fermentation process to run its course in a single session and skip straight to the final step.
- Distillation. At the end of the fermentation process, baijiu resembles an alcoholic grain mash. This mash is then heated using a device known as a still. A still boils this mash and captures the vapours that are produced. A still is required, however, as alcohol has a substantially lower boiling point than water. If specialist equipment is not used, much of the alcohol will be lost. These vapours are then removed, and allowed to cool off and return to liquid form. This liquid is baijiu.
- Ageing. Some very cheap brands of baijiu will be released for retail at this point, but that is very rare. Following distillation, a baijiu typically has an alcohol proof content of over 70%. Water is usually added to dilute this strength. Many manufacturers will then bottle their baijiu, or place it in a wooden cask, and leave it to age. How long a baijiu is left to age depends on how prestigious the final product is intended to be.
How Long Does Baijiu Take to Make?
A low-cost baijiu will typically make its way onto shop shelves a year after production begins. However, a more prestigious baijiu will be allowed to age for a prolonged time. This could be as long as four years.
A baijiu that is left to age for a substantial period of time is celebrated far more than a baijiu with a shorter ageing process. Just like popular western spirits such as whiskey, an aged baijiu is considered to be a vintage drink.
What Does Baijiu Taste Like?
See Also: Types of Baijiu
This depends on that baijiu that is being sampled. Baijiu is divided into four main sub-categories:
Although these descriptions revolve around scent, they will also have a major impact on the taste of baijiu. Light and Rice Aroma baijius are often sweeter to the taste, with floral overtones. Strong and Sauce Aromas baijius are must heavier.
One thing that all baijiu has in common is that it’s very strong. Due to the high alcohol content of the spirit, many first-time drinkers struggle with the taste.
How Much Alcohol Does Baijiu Contain?
Baijiu famously has a very high alcohol content. This has earned it the nickname, “firewater” among drinkers that are not used to such a strong spirit.
The average bottle of baijiu has an alcohol content between 50-60%. For comparison, a typical bottle of vodka or whiskey has alcohol content closer to 40%.
Can Baijiu be Used in Cocktails?
Yes, there are a number of cocktails and mixers that incorporate baijiu.
- See our section on Baijiu Cokctails
- See our section on Baijiu Mixers
Where Can I Buy Baijiu?
Despite the popularity of baijiu in China, it is hard to find in the west. Most conventional supermarkets or off licenses will not stock baijiu. This is down to simple supply and demand. Baijiu can be expensive to import, and does not sell many units due to limited awareness.
Baijiu can be found online. A major retailer such as Amazon will typically have a revolving stock that changes each week. Beyond this, however, baijiu will often be found in a local Asian supermarket.
All major towns and cities will have a shop that specialises in Asian cuisine ingredients. Many of these supermarkets will stock baijiu.
In the UK you can buy V.I.P Jiu 8: Historically the best baijiu in the world.
Is Baijiu Expensive?
This depends on which brand of baijiu you choose, and how old the baijiu is. In China, some bajiu retails for as little as £1. However, an aged bottle of a reputable brand could cost £1,000 or more. Aged baijiu is considered to be a collectible item in China, so bottles often sell for very high prices. In fact, Christies in Shanghai held their first-ever baijiu-inly auction in 2018.
What is the Best Brand of Baijiu?
“Best” is a very subjective term. This depends on the taste and aroma preferences of the individual.
How Do I Drink Baijiu?
See Also: How to Drink Baijiu
There are a number of cultural regulations that surround the drinking of baijiu. It is important that these are observed and respected, as failure to do as can cause offense. When drinking baijiu, always follow these guidelines:
- Baijiu should be drunk from a small, specialist vessel, similar to a shot glass.
- If refilling your own glass from a bottle or jug, you will be expected to do the same for your drinking companions.
- Baijiu should never be drunk alone. If you wish to drink, you should always toast the person to your right.
- If you are toasted, you will always be expected to drink a shot of baijiu.
- When toasting, somebody, hold your glass as low as possible. This demonstrates respect and humility.
- If you do not wish to drink baijiu, this must be made clear at the onset of the evening. Refusing a toast or round can cause great offense.
I am Teetotal, Will I be Expected to Drink Baijiu in China?
If you are in China, you will be expected to drink baijiu. This spirit plays a very substantial role in the country’s culture and tradition. Getting intoxicated in China is not frowned upon – it is to be expected.
Many Chinese nationals consider themselves to be poor hosts if their guests leave a dinner table or social occasion sober. This means that you should never refuse a round or toast because you feel that you have drunk too much already.
If you are unable or unwilling to drink, explain this at the onset of a social occasion. This will usually be accepted. Changing your mind halfway through an event, however, is considered to be disrespectful. In addition, if doing business in China, be aware that refusing to drink baijiu may give a negative impression from the outset. The sharing of baijiu is considered an event of comradeship and loyalty.
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