Five Baijiu Myths – Busted!

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.

3) All Chinese baijiu is made using traditional methods.

The story behind baijiu stretches back over 1,000 years, but it was not until the Chinese Communist Party came to power in 1949 that the modern baijiu production processes used today were perfected in enormous state-owned distilleries. From that moment on a lot of the craft behind baijiu disappeared. The mega baijiu brand owners are keen to tell us their baijiu is still made in exactly the same way it always was – but with billions of litres being churned out every year the sad truth is volume is now far more important than tradition these days. Thankfully there are still some baijiu brands out there being made by humans and not computers.

4) A glass of Baijiu is always meant to be drunk in one go, just like a tequila slammer.

Put away the salt and lemon! Baijiu is traditionally meant to be sipped neat at room temperature from small glasses, and is often served with food. In recent years leading mixologists have discovered some amazing cocktail combos that use baijiu to give them an exhilarating kick.

5) The best baijiu in the world comes from China.

Not that long ago ALL baijiu came from China, whether it was good, bad or downright disgusting. But now a handful of drinks innovators are shaking things up, creating a new generation of baijiu outside of China. Like V.I.P Jui 8, a baijiu made in Britain that’s a faithful recreation of a 300 year-old recipe containing nine secret ingredients chosen by the Chinese Kangxi Emperor himself.

So there we have it. Like a lot of other spirits these days baijiu is busy reinventing itself to appeal to a new generation of curious craft drinkers. If you’ve never tried it before there’s little doubt you’re in for a shocking – and hopefully pleasant – surprise!

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Picture caption: V.I.P Jiu 8 is the first Imperial craft baijiu from Britain made using a 300 year-old recipe created by the Kangxi Emperor, who ruled over China between 1654 – 1722.

Further reading: Kweichow Moutai Baijiu – VS – V.I.P Jiu 8 Baijiu