Welcome to ‘Confessions of a Baijiu Drinker‘. This series asks people to share their experiences with baijiu: that first taste, the point where appreciation began, a funny anecdote or two. Given I’m asking people to spill their deepest darkest baijiu secrets, it’s only fair I go first.
When did you first try baijiu?
During my first trip to China. It was 1999, we were in Inner Mongolia checking off the sleep-in-a-yurt box and a tour guide told us it was still Chinese New Year. He opened a bottle of baijiu and threw some on the campfire. His grin as it exploded into flames should have served as a warning but instead we wanted to try a shot.
When did you first begin to appreciate baijiu?
It’s impossible to pinpoint a date. It happened gradually over years of ganbei-style dinners. There were times when the mood was so good I was inspired to recklessly toast people and I came to like some baijius. I particularly remember being in Xinjiang and being given a choice between Cognac or Maotai after dinner. Maybe it was because I’d had baijiu with roast mutton so often, but I willingly chose the Maotai.
I also became interested in baijiu cocktails after I started my nightlife blog Beijing Boyce in 2006. I’ve found more than a dozen bars over the years that made them, including a few during the Beijing Olympics in 2008, and we even had an intense experimental baijiu pickleback session last year.
What are your favorite baijius?
These days, I lean toward “sauce aroma” baijius, the ones with that Maotai style. I find they have a lot of interesting scents, from soy sauce to bean paste to salted plums.
For value, I buy the light aroma baijiu Niulanshan, which starts at rmb10, and enjoy Kinmen Kaoliang from that category, too. I also enjoyed my only taste of the pork-infused baijiu Yubingshao.
Do you have a baijiu drinking story to share?
Two years ago, I took the overnight train from Beijing to Shanghai for a 10 AM tasting of 80-plus baijius organized by Derek Sandhaus at Yuan Bar. I wanted to be there early because I feared the event would be swamped and the baijiu in short supply. In fact, the only other person to show up for the morning session was a Hong Kong-based wine expert named Jeannie Cho-Lee. Sandhaus arranged the baijius by styles, which helped demonstrate their uniqueness, and I managed to taste 65 bottles before leaving at 4 PM to head back to Beijing.
One more anecdote. In 2011, I went to a dinner with three top wine industry people, Ma Huiqin, Li Demei and Frankie Zhao, and a visiting Chilean wine professor. We drank an eclectic mix of wines, including an organic Israeli Petit Syrah and a 1968 Austrian Beerenauslese. Li and Zhao decided to get one more bottle: that ubiquitous Hong Xing erguotou that retails for rmb4 or about a dollar. They told me that it was cheap but also interesting because of its yeasty character. I doubt we’ll ever the see the combo below again.
World Baijiu Day is held each August 9. See our 2018 event list here. The 2019 list is coming soon. Follow World Baijiu Day on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Get in touch with Jim Boyce via spirit (at) worldbaijiuday.com.