A guide to Kweichow Moutai — China’s national liquor

A guide to Kweichow MAOTAI — China's national liquor

If you have never heard of Maotai, you soon will. This baijiu is a pivotal drink in its native land. Let’s take a look at the key facts that surround this most reputable of spirits.

Moutai – VS – V.I.P Jiu 8 Scientific Analysis

Moutai – VS – V.I.P Jiu 8
Moutai – VS – V.I.P Jiu 8

A bottle of V.I.P Jiu 8 together with a bottle of Kweichow Moutai Flying Fairy was sent to a UK laboratory for analysis.

The laboratory is a registered member of UKAS – The United Kingdom Accreditation Service that is recognised by the UK government when comparing products to internationally agreed standards.

The results confirmed what we already suspected – (Kweichow Moutai – VS – V.I.P Jiu 8 Results)

What is Moutai?

Sometimes referred to as Moutai, Maotai is best described as the national alcohol drink of China. If you have even a passing interest in Chinese culture or politics, it pays to know your way around a bottle of this baijiu.

Created by Kweichow Moutai Co, Ltd, the most famous spirit distillery in China, this liquor is an ever-present at all Chinese state events. In addition, many diplomats and senior figures within the country present rare and unique bottles of Maotai as a gift.

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Where is Moutai Made?

Like most baijiu, Maotai is named after the area in which it is produced. In this instance, that’s Maotai Town. You’ll find this location within the Guizhou Province, a rural territory in the southwest of China.

Baijiu is taken as seriously in China as champagne is in France, so there can be no doubt about the authenticity of a bottle of Maotai.

To carry the name and distinct label of Maotai, the spirit must be distilled by Kweichow Moutai Co, Ltd in Maotai Town. Anything else is marketed under the less glamorous branding of Maotai Town Baijiu.

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Is Kweichow Moutai Co, Ltd a Big Business?

In terms of Chinese alcohol, it’s the biggest of them all. While it is not known when production of baijiu in Moutai Town began, the process became official in the mid-20th Century. The Moutai Distillery was opened as a state-owned and operated concern in 1951, when Ronghe, Chengyi and Hengxing merged to create one master production house.

Since these early days, the distillery has remained a high priority enterprise for local authorities. Countless expansions have been made, and the share price of Kweichow Moutai Co, Ltd has steadily increased over time.

Despite baijiu being comparatively unknown outside of China, the value of Kweichow Moutai Co, Ltd dwarfs that of Diageo Plc – owners of such renowned brands as Smirnoff, Guinness and Baileys. This makes it the most valuable alcohol business in the world.

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The Landscape of Moutai Town

French wine and champagne manufacturers often refer to the importance of ‘terroir’ – the environment surrounding grapes and crops, and the practices used to create great wine.

The same applies to Baijiu, with the terroir of Maotai Town part of the appeal of this baijiu. This area has long, hot summers and comparatively mild winters. Maotai Town rarely suffers from excessive rainfall or strong winds, instead defined by a warm climate and higher levels of humidity.

In addition, the Kweichow Moutai Co, Ltd distillery is located very close to the Chishui River. This celebrated body of water is often referred to as, “the River of Wines”, as many wines and baijius use it to source hydration.

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How is Moutai Made?

Like all baijiu, Maotai begins life as sorghum. This grain is harvested by employees of the distillery, with only the very best making the cut. Typically, these grains must be golden in colour, with a thin skin covering a plump and hard interior.

The process of fermentation commences with qu (aka jiaqu). This is a starter, or accelerator, that contains yeast. Qu is mixed with sorghum, and each batch of the mixture is relocated to a unique and separate container. Multiple fermentations – as many as seven – are then undertaken each year.

Once the Maotai is suitably fermented, the process reaches its next step. The spirit is placed in an earthenware jars and left in storage for up to four years. This ages the baijiu to perfection, as it has time to breathe within its enclosure.

The final, and undoubtedly most critical, step is blending. The baijiu that leaves the earthenware jar is not yet worthy of carrying the famous Maotai label. First, it requires the attention of master blenders, who will apply finishing touches to distil the spirit and add depth and balance to the taste.

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How Should Moutai be Enjoyed?

To fully embrace Maotai the way the manufacturers intend, it must be consumed at an appropriate temperature. This is no cooler than 20°C, but no warmer than 25.

Serving in a tulip-shaped glass will maintain the appropriate aroma. Pinching the base of a Maotai glass with your fingers is advisable. This avoids heating the contents within and altering the scent. This is important, as the first taste of quality baijiu is typically through the nose.

Maotai is typically described as having a Sauce Aroma, but this is too basic a description. You’ll pick up on a wide array of notes, including floral undertones alongside fruits and grains.

As the national drink of China, Maotai unsurprisingly matches most dishes from this nation. Japanese and Korean dishes, in addition to caviar, also make natural food companions though.

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Facts About Moutai

Thirsty to learn more about Maotai? Here are some additional interesting facts about the spirit.

  1. The bottle design of Maotai is hugely distinctive. Picture the trademark yellow label on a bottle of magnum of Veuve Clicquot champagne. Maotai is just as famous – and important – in China. Bottles are white in colour, with a diagonal red label.
  2. Maotai, like all baijiu, has a high alcohol content. This means that some people use it as paint thinner, or even as emergency fuel for a car on long journeys.
  3. You’d have to be pretty wealthy to be so cavalier with Maotai, though. This is not a cheap alcohol. A bottle made from porcelain will retail for at least £175 – often more. The Chinese government have attempted to cap selling prices at closer to £125, to no avail.
  4. Bottles of Maotai have frequently exchanged hands as political and business bribes. Forgeries are also common. This issue peaked in 2010, when it was estimated that 90% of Maotai that exchanged hands was a counterfeit home brew.
  5.  A merchant brewed up moonshine in 1992 before selling it on for disproportionate prices thanks to pouring the spirit into a Maotai bottle. This entrepreneur was executed for his troubles, under the charge of copyright infringement.
  6. 2011 was a gala year for Kweichow Moutai Co, Ltd. This was the 60th anniversary of the state-owned distillery. A huge party was thrown to mark the occasion, hosting countless VIPs, while in excess of £60m was spent on a coveted television advertising campaign ahead of Chinese New Year.
  7. There is a price to pay for Maotai. As the local distillery has continue to grow, setting ever more ambitious production targets, some 15,000 residents of Maotai Town were relocated to make way for expansion.
  8. The sheer volume of water from the Chishui River required to create Maotai has also seen the river grow increasingly shallow. So much so, in fact, that boats can no longer pass through Maotai Town.

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