When we think of Yorkshire, baijiu is hardly the first beverage that springs to mind. Most of us would picture a Yorkshire resident enjoying a chilled pint of bitter, or a steaming mug of strong tea. Stereotypes are made to be broken, though – especially by Baijiu Society, a brewery based in Rydale.
Baijiu Society are bringing a fresh spin to China’s national liqueur, aiming to bring it to mainstream attention throughout the UK and beyond. Business is already booming thanks to exports to China and Hong Kong, where company CEO Craig Butler was formerly based.
It was while working in China that Butler discovered the undeniable pleasures of baijiu. Upon returning to Blighty, Butler had the bright idea of combining the most popular drink in the East with a firm favourite of the West. Two years ago, Baijiu Society began work on a baijiu-infused beer.
This proved to a huge hit in China. The core baijiu ingredients of pear, vanilla and floral aromas blended well with the craft beer that Butler produced on a daily basis. Naturally, the baijiu content was comparatively light. Tossing too much of this potent spirit into a well-crafted beer would not just be overpowering to the palate. The alcohol content would also leave people on their backs after a couple of bottles.
Butler’s curiosity was piqued, however. The baijiu beer experiment gave him to the confidence to tackle unique baijiu recipes and create new baijiu to be sold under his company banner. These are now ready to be unleashed upon the world. No less than half a dozen baijius have been created by Baijiu Society, who have incorporated beer-making techniques to the traditional Chinese spirit.
These baijius are a little more delicate than traditional Chinese spirits, boasting an ABV that’s typically around 40%. This makes them ideal as base ingredients for cocktails (or, indeed, future beer recipes) – especially given the wide range of scents and flavours that are included in the recipes. There is nothing to say that these baijius cannot be enjoyed neat, or on the rocks.
You won’t find any of Baijiu Society’s products on the shelves of your local supermarket just yet though. The full range, including the flagship blend The Spirit of Society, are being debuted at specialist events in China and Hong Kong.
Early feedback has been positive, with younger attendees particularly impressed with the offerings. This lighter, more delicate approach is seemingly more appealing to Millennial’s. While some Chinese nationals consider baijiu to be the reserve of older generations, with younger drinkers preferring beer or traditional spirits. Baijiu Society appears to be forging an agreeable compromise between these age groups.
The generational gap isn’t the only hole that Baijiu Society are keen to bridge, however. Ultimately, they aim to introduce a little slice of Chinese life to Western drinkers. Shots are rarely part of the drinking culture in Britain, outside of student union bars and special occasions. In China, however, the art of downing a shot of baijiu is sacred.
Baijiu Society are hoping that their blended products can plug the cultural gap between tall spirits, sipped at slowly throughout an evening, and down-the-hatch shot consumption that also savours the unique flavours of baijiu. With more and more companies taking a similar approach, it’s surely only a matter of time before this happens.