Bottles of baijiu, the famous fiery national drink of China, are increasingly being spotted in trendy bars and restaurants throughout the Western world.
But despite a spike in popularity for the liquor, which in its home country annually outsells combined global sales of whisky, vodka, gin and tequila, newly converted drinkers are being warned that their next bottle of baijiu might not be what it seems.
That’s because criminals have spotted an opportunity to turn a fast profit by watering down expensive bottles of baijiu, or even substituting the entire contents of your bottle with nasty low-grade, industrial liquor.
For many alcohol enthusiasts, especially those based outside of China, Kweichow Moutai is the biggest name in baijiu. Thanks to government sponsorship, excellent branding and a stellar reputation, Kweichow Moutai Co. Ltd briefly became the largest business on the Chinese stock exchange earlier in 2020.
Despite this, rival distilleries are slowly and steadily making headway into a marketplace previously dominated by Moutai. Take Wuliangye Yibin Co. Ltd as an example. Based in the southwestern province of Sichuan, Wuliangye expanded their business operations in the first quarter of 2020.
The aim of this was to venture an initial financial hit with longer-term progress and profit. It appears that the gamble has paid off. The growth of Wuliangye Yibin Co. Ltd surpassed that of Kweichow Moutai Co. Ltd for the first half of the year.
The biggest impact was on net profits, as Wuliangye are already seeing a return on their investment. Profit has increased to the tune of CNY10.9 billion. That’s roughly £GBP 1.2billion. While this is a slower growth than during the same period in 2019 – 16%, as opposed to 33% – these remain hugely impressive financial results. When we consider that the world has changed irrevocably in 2020, the climb is even more noteworthy.
Baijiu – the fiery national spirit of China – has an unenviable reputation as the most misunderstood alcoholic drink in the Western world. Although a huge seller in its native homeland (where consumption exceeds global sales of whisky, gin, vodka and tequila combined) nobody outside of China seems to really know what it is, how to pronounce it or most importantly how to drink it.
To try and understand this mysterious spirit from the Far East a little better let’s take a look at the top 5 baijiu myths.
1) Baijiu is the name of a Chinese spirit.
Well yes. And no. Baijiu – which literally means ‘white (clear) liquor’ in Mandarin and is pronounced ‘Bye-Joe’ in English – refers to not one but an entire family of distilled Chinese spirits. Baijiu can be divided up into four principle ‘aroma’ styles: strong aroma, light aroma, sauce aroma and rice aroma. These can smell and taste wildly different from one another.
2) Baijiu smells of old socks and tastes like drinking rotting fruit dipped in aftershave.
Celebrated US journalist Dan Rather once likened sipping baijiu to ‘drinking liquid razor blades’. With a hard-hitting alcoholic punch of between 30-65% it’s certainly not a drink for the faint-hearted. Many western drinkers unfamiliar with the umami smells and tastes in a lot of baijiu think it’s like drinking soy sauce and overripe fruit. Other baijiu, like V.I.P Jiu 8, have a much lighter, fresher mouthfeel.