The third post in the Confessions of a Baijiu Drinker series features Lao San, an American lawyer who lives in China and tweets under the name Black China Hand.
What is your earliest memory of drinking baijiu?
At the risk of dating myself, my first memories of drinking baijiu were as an exchange student in China in 1989. At some point during the semester, our school held a banquet for the international students.
As is custom for a Chinese banquet there was plenty of booze. One of our Chinese teachers was sitting at our table and he knew we liked to drink every now and then. He encouraged us to try the bottle of Moutai sitting at the center of the “lazy Susan”. As I recall, he described it as a “unique taste” that was very expensive.
We figured why not give it a try, as a cultural experience, especially if it was a quality drink. My first reaction when he opened the bottle was that it smelled like someone died. My second reaction after downing a shot was I wanted to run somewhere and vomit. But being young, as we were, what might have been the end of my baijiu experience turned into a challenge as we tried to see who could do the most shots.
In the end, we finished that bottle and half of the bottle at the next table. I don’t remember who had the most but I was one of them.
I wore it as a badge of courage and started bringing bottles of the less expensive local version called “lao longtou” to parties just to show off as the American that could drink baijiu.
When did you first begin to appreciate baijiu?
As I mentioned, for a long time I drank baijiu simply because I could and as a way to show off but without much appreciation of it. Baijiu in northeast China is for the most part to either get drunk or to show your drinking ability. Therefore, most of the local brands are pretty bad.
But during my three years in Wuhan, I discovered that locals actually drink baijiu like the French drink wine — as something to be sipped and appreciated rather than knocked back between bites of food. It was there that I also tasted a wide range of baijius from fiery hot to smooth and subtle. It was then that I began to appreciate the diversity of baijiu.
What are your favorite baijius?
It all depends on the mood and occasion. For a general sip, a sip for any occasion, I really like Hubei’s Baiyunbian. For a banquet or when you want to impress, I’d choose the original Wuliangye. For the “I want to get drunk quick” moments, I’d choose Beijing’s Hong Xing. It’s cheap, widely available and has a range of categories to fit the drunk you want to obtain.
Do you have a baijiu drinking story to share?
Too many to tell. But I think one of the interesting elements of baijiu drinking is how it can sneak up on you. I mean one minute you’re feeling you can manage it, then the next you’re bonkers.
For instance, back in the day I was invited to dinner by my former language partner at her home with her husband and young son. Everything was going well until her husband pulled out the bottle of baijiu. I figured, one 750 ml bottle, no problem.
He and I finished it off about halfway through the meal. Naturally I was feeling good so when he asked if I want to keep on drinking I said sure. So he sent his son to get another bottle. Little did I suspect that the son would come back with one of those tw0-liter jugs of generic baijiu. I knew then, there will be blood.
Accordingly, as far as I can make out, over the next hour the husband and I traded shots of baijiu while my former language partner and her young son watched. At some point I remember saying I should get back and my language partner saying that I should stay in the guest room because I was too drunk. Next I remember I was running out the door and flagging down a cab before my language partner and husband could stop me. Finally, I remember waking up in my own bed in my pajamas.
I was clueless to, one, how I got home and, two, how I went to bed in such a normal fashion. I called up my language partner for details and she said she went to the guest room to prepare the bed and when she came out I was gone and her husband was passed out on the sofa. To this day my return remains a mystery that I suppose only the baijiu gods know the truth of.
Read more Confessions of baijiu drinkers here.