Nick Van Leeuwen is co-founder of organic wine importer Australian Natural, which lists brands like Paxton, The Hedonist, Temple Bruer and J&J in its portfolio. Given his time in China, he’s had a bit of experience with baijiu, a slightly more potent tipple than those he sells. I asked him a few questions as part of the World Baijiu Day ‘confessions’ series.
What is your first memory of drinking baijiu?
My first memory of baijiu is a hazy one to say the least. It was a typical smoggy summer day in Beijing, and I was on my way to meet a man from Dongbei, who I had met in a bank earlier in the week. Arriving late, I was ceremoniously welcomed into the room, introduced to each of the middle-aged men, led to my seat next to the man from the bank, who later became a mentor of mine, and informed that I would be punished for my tardiness with three baijiu shots.
The Maotai was free flowing that night–this was in pre-Xi Jinping days. I have no memory of the evening past the fifth bottle–there were seven of us–but judging from the photos, I had a great time, made some new friends, and started my journey to appreciating and enjoying this great spirit.
How did you acquire that appreciation?
My appreciation first began in 2011 when I started regularly attending banquets and dinners. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to try a wide range of different baijiu brands and flavours.
What are your favorite baijius?
I am a big fan of strong-flavored baijiu. My three favorite baijius are Mengzhilan, Wuliangye and Shuijingfang. As a foreigner calling Beijing home, I also can’t go past a bottle of light-flavoured erguotou with some local friends.
Do you have a baijiu drinking story to share?
A few years back on an alcohol-fueled trip in Henan, we were introduced to a local baijiu craftsman, Mr Ma. Upon sitting down at the table under a tarp tent, a grinning Mr Ma proudly pulled out a four-litre Nongfu plastic spring water container.
Mr Ma proceeded to pour us all a glass while explaining that he had made this baijiu himself. After a clink of glasses, down the hatch went Mr Ma’s baijiu. We all withered in pain as our mouths, throats and stomachs were scorched by his 75-proof baijiu. The most alcoholic baijiu I have ever had and an experience I don’t wish to ever have again. To this day, I still shiver at the sight of a Nongfu four-litre bottle!
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.