Baijiu is the most popular drink in China, but it remains a well-kept secret in most western nations. Industry officials have advised traders from China to look into changing this, and to expand their customer base into international territories.
The primary concern of the liquor industry in China is how import figures are vastly outnumbering exports. It’s believed that, throughout 2018, China imported around 83 million litres of liquor. That was a climb of some 13% from the previous year. The price tag attached to these imports was almost $1.5 billion, which was almost 25% higher than 2017.
In comparison to this, China exported just 17.2 million litres of liquor. That was a small climb of just under 4% from the previous year. There is no issue with the quality of the products. Chinese liquor enjoys a stellar reputation among those that enjoy it. However, ignorance toward baijiu – and its versatility – is harming the industry.
That’s something that many alcohol manufacturers in China are eager to change. Numerous reputable and substantial baijiu producers – including Yanghe, Fenjiu, Wuliangye and the powerhouse Moutai – are running advertising and educational campaigns surrounding their product.
The intention is twofold. Hopefully, this will attract more overseas customers to experiment with baijiu and discover its qualities for themselves. Perhaps more importantly, however, these campaigns will capture the imagination of China’s youth. This way, the next generation will continue to enjoy baijiu and not neglect this traditional shot of choice in favour of exotic imports of whiskey or vodka.
The China National Association for Liquor and Spirits Circulation is working alongside these manufacturers on a number of events. One of these is hosting the 68th World Cocktail Championships, which will be held in Chengdu from November 4 to November 7.
This will be a first for the event, which is arranged by the International Bartenders Association. The championships have never been held in China before. As a result, no Chinese spirit has ever been used as the base ingredient for the competition. Baijiu is set to go global – and likely raise a few eyebrows in the process.
Liu Yuan, the Executive Vice-President of the CNALSC, is acutely aware of the importance of cocktails when it comes to educating international drinkers upon the merits of baijiu. The spirit may appear harsh and too strong for western drinkers if they’re unsure what to expect, and a poor first impression can be tricky to overcome.
When used within a cocktail, however, there are plenty of opportunities to fall in love with baijiu. The ability to mix and match complementary ingredients, and permit bartenders to use their imaginations and creative flair to concoct the perfect blend, will surely open a range of doors.
The efforts of the CNALSC do not begin and end with the World Cocktail Championships. The organisation, alongside baijiu manufacturers, has also targeted to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics as a major opportunity to advertise and educate. Sports enthusiasts from all over the world will be visiting China for the event, and what better way could there be to ingratiate visitors into the local culture?
This is all important, as the nature of alcohol consumption in China differs from many western territories. There is no bar culture to speak of in China. Chinese nationals tend to enjoy baijiu, and other alcohols, within their own homes. In China, to drink is to seek inspiration for creative endeavours, or to seal a bond of friendship or love with treasured company.
It remains to be seen how successful this endeavour can be. The United States has a famously prickly trading relationship with China, and import policies may prove prohibitive. What’s more, a great deal of education and promotion will be required to push baijiu into the hearts and minds of a new audience. Many consumers prefer to stick with the tried and trusted.
All the same, the effort cannot be faulted – and there is every chance that baijiu will become a roaring success in the west. It is the most popular drink in China after all, and over a billion people cannot be wrong. Look out a baijiu cocktail in your local hipster-operated pub or bar and try it for yourself. You could be at the forefront of a revolution.