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Friday, August 7, 2015

Hello, Joe! China’s National Spirit is Like Nothing You Know

Today, August 8th, is World Baijiu Day. Huh? Baijiu (pronounced bye-joe) has been consumed in China for ages – literally - and has been distilled in the country since at least around 800 AD, way back when Charlemagne took over the world. Baijiu is a fermented spirit made by actually digging pits into the earth and layering various grains on top of each other and allowing them to ferment, a tradition that continues to this day.Though there are different recipes across China, essentially this is a mix of distilled sorghum and various grains like rice, wheat and corn.  There are many different types of Baijiu some with more explosive characteristics some more mild so there is not a single defining characteristic of it. It’s more a diverse expressiveness based on region, so you need to find the one that works for you. Certainly, the American palette is not accustomed to this drink (think Vegemite in Australia, or to a certain degree Nutella, both of which are common to their countries, but uncommon to America). 
If you've ever been to a Chinese New Year celebration or dinner, no doubt you've had a version of Baijiu. Moutai is probably the most well known iteration.

Traditionally Baijiu is a sipping, celebratory drink, used most often at Chinese New Year and for toasting big events like weddings, milestone events and when Presidents Clinton and Nixon sipped this in China. I sampled many different versions a while back at Hakkasan in Beverly Hills including the Moutai, and Jian Nan Chun, which was my favorite as this clear liquid presents an explosion of anise, licorice, and eucalyptus and a slight funky quality – think stinky blue cheese and you’re on track. You may not be familiar with the diversity and complexity of Baijiu, so now is your chance to find a version of this ancient liquor and try something new.

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