Baijiu Chinese Liquor FAQs

Baijiu Production FAQs

Akin to vodka for the Russians, soju for the Koreans and sake for the Japanese, baijiu is a national symbol for the Chinese. Baijiu is China’s best kept secret. Baijiu is the world’s most popular liquor in terms of volume consumed every year, yet few know about it outside of China. Baijiu can be poles apart in its simplicity or its complexity. Baijiu its an amazing liquor, the flavors, aromas, tastes, versatility, and history make this Chinese liquor a must try. Baijiu is usually drunk neat especially in China, yet it mixes extremely well in cocktails (Baijiu Cocktails).

Hopefully the FAQs below will educate and feed your curiosity about this historic Chinese liquor.


By what other name is baijiu known as?

Baijiu has many names in ancient China, the most common of which was shaojiu 烧酒 (burnt wine). During the Tang Dynasty (618-907) famous poets such as Yong Tao mentions the word shaojiu in one of his poems. This proves baijiu in one form or another has been around a long time.

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Baijiu pronunciation – How?

Baijiu (Chinese: 白酒; pinyin: báijiǔ), pronounced “bye-joe” literally means “clear liquor,”

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What is baijiu made of?

Fermented sorghum, rice or glutinous rice is the principal raw ingredient of baijiu. Other Chinese varieties may use wheat, barley, millet, corn, yam or even Job’s tears (yìyǐ) in their mash bills.

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What is baijius average alcohol content?

It’s stronger than the average spirit. Baijiu typically has an ABV ranging between 50 and 60 percent.

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How is baijiu made?

In a baijiu still, steam blasts through the fermented grain from below, carrying flavor compounds and alcohol off to condense in a cooling tower. Credit: Will Ludwig/C&EN

Baijiu is produced in a process known as solid-state fermentation. Basically the liquor is distilled from fermented sorghum and occasionally other grains. The fermentation begins with the making a Qu — a ‘starter’ containing yeast — which is then mixed with the sorghum. During fermentation, microorganisms in the Qu start to work. Their enzymes convert starches into sugars, sugars into alcohol, and proteins into amino acids. Certain baijiu that requires multiple cycles of fermentation and distillation will have fresh grains added to the mash. Most baijiu is aged for at least six months whereas premium baijiu is aged for three to four years. Baijiu is stored in earthenware jars which allow the alcohol to ‘breathe’. Following this storage period, the baijiu will go through an elaborate blending process. Read more on How baijiu is made?

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What is Qu?

The spirit’s fermentation agent, qu (pronounced “chew”), was invented during the Han Dynasty around 200 A.D. to make huangjiu, or “yellow wine.” Qu is the most important element in making baijiu. Each pressed brick of Qu can contain hundreds of distinct yeasts, molds and microorganisms, all naturally cultivated from the air. The role of qu is to saccharify the starches in the grain so that it ferments carbohydrates into sugars and sugars into alcohol. Added to the mash of grain and water, jiuqu supports a quick conversion of starch into alcohol, allowing the final spirit to reach high levels of alcohol by volume. Qu can create subtle differences in taste and recipes are the most carefully guarded secrets in the industry. Read more on What is Qu

Big Qu and Small Qu

Big qu baijius are commonly sorghum based and have complex flavors and are usually classed as a premium drink. Almost all of the most well known baijius are big qu baijius. The bricks are stored at high temperatures for one to two months, during which time various yeasts and other molds form, the finishing process sees the bricks dried out and ground into powder for alcohol fermentation.

Small qu baijius are less well known. Small qu is used to make rice-based baijius. Small qu is made with a rice base, and sometimes contains soybeans and herbs. The rice mixture is rolled into small balls and set aside to collect molds and yeasts. It is usually mixed with medicinal herbs and spices.

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What is the history of baijiu?

The invention of alcohol predates recorded history in China, going as far back as possibly 7000BC. In 1983, archaeologists unearthed artefacts from the Jiagu civilisation (7000-5800BC) in China’s north-western Henan Province. Read more baijiu history

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How do you pronounce Qu?

Qu 曲 is Short for Jiuqu. Qu is pronounced “chew”.

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Baijiu price – How much does it cost?

Depending on production method and age, baijiu can cost anywhere from $1 to over $100,000. The key attributes are the quality of its appearance, age, rarity and authenticity.

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Baijiu brands – Which are the best?

Top 5 baijiu brands based on online positive taste reviews.

Check out: Baijiu Brands – The Best Top Ten

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What does baijiu taste like?

It depends on what kind of baijiu you try and your particular tastes.  Its flavor is different from any other spirit, descriptors like smoky, fruity, etc., don’t apply to baijiu. It has a powerful flavor, and can be quite a complex drink. You just have to try it yourself as there are so many brands, with each one having its own unique taste and aroma.

Baijiu is identified by smell into four main categories: nong xiang (strong scent), qing xiang (light scent), jiang xiang (sauce scent), and mi xiang (rice scent)

Qing Xiang (light scent)

Light aroma baijius are typically made in the north, and are fruity, slightly sweet and inexpensive.

Nong Xiang (strong scent)

Strong aromas baijius, associated with the southwest, have a bigger and spicier body, more powerful aromas and flavors, and are pricier.

Jiang Xiang (sauce scent)

Sauce aroma baijius, also linked to the southwest,  aromas of savory herbs, soy sauce, and include some of the most famous and priciest brands.

Mi Xiang (rice scent)

Rice aroma baijius, produced in the south, are based on rice and are milder, and often have added flavors.

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Where can I find baijiu for sale?

Check out baijiu for sale page

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What foods does baijiu pair with best?

Baijiu pairs well with most Chinese cuisine, but also with Korean grill, Japanese sashimi, and caviar. Read our page – What food goes well with baijiu?

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How do you drink baijiu?

While there is no rule book about drinking baijiu, there are a few best practices. It is recommended that baijiu should be tasted at room temperature during a meal, using the spirit to complement the flavors of the food. In China, baijiu is traditionally drunk at special occasions or dinners in small shot type glasses. The spirit is usually consumed in the company of others. When drinking with others, toasting is required, the baijiu is drunk in one gulp and then turn glass upside down to show that you have finished the entire glass, hence giving face to the person who made the toast. Each drinker aims to clink his or her glass in the lowest position in order to indicate the greatest humility. See: Drinking Baijiu – Chinese Customs & Traditions

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Baijiu cocktails – Do you have any recipes?

As a rule, it is best to drink expensive Baijiu straight, to savour its complex flavour. For it has a full-bodied, rich flavour. That deserves to be experienced on its own.

On the other hand, Baijiu mix’s in with cocktails very well. as tropical fruit and botanical notes enhance most cocktails and the more pungent Baijiu go well with spices. Read more baijiu cocktails

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