Derek Sandhaus, the latest in the “Confessions of a Baijiu Drinker” series, has put more time than most into the study of baijiu, something he has documented first via his blog 300 Shots to Greatness and then his book Baijiu: The Essential Guide to Chinese Spirits. I asked him a few questions about his earliest impressions of baijiu, his favorite brands, and more.
When did you first try baijiu?
I first tried baijiu in 2006, not long after arriving in China. I was at a holiday party with some of my coworkers when someone gave me a swig of some really rough stuff, the cheapest thing he could find at one of those Haode convenience stores. Probably Hongxing Erguotou, but who knows? It was understood before we drank it that it would be disgusting and I wasn’t disappointed in that regard.
When did you first begin to appreciate baijiu?
That came much later, after I moved to Chengdu. I first appreciated baijiu after I made a conscious effort to learn what it was, an effort which I started documenting on my blog near the end of 2011. My first attempt at a tasting involved buying two or three bottles and bringing them out to dinner with some friends. I remember we had a cheap bottle of Moutai and some Luzhou Laojiao on the table. What surprised me, and kept me going was realizing at once that I was dealing with very different products. You wouldn’t have known them for the same liquor if they weren’t both labelled baijiu, and I enjoyed the Luzhou Laojiao a bit more than the other. This was a bit of an a-ha moment for me.
The next big breakthrough came a few months after that when I was served Luzhou Laojiao Guojiao 1573 at a banquet. It was the first time I had tried baijiu and thought it a great drink without qualification. It was smooth, it was balanced, it was rich and complex—I was sold.
What are your favorite baijius?
I have a long list of favorites at this point. As the stories above indicates, I’ve always been a fan of Luzhou Laojiao. Their mid-range Touqu label became my go-to for dinners out.
I’m a big fan of Jiannanchun in the strong-aroma category as well. For light aroma, I like Xinghuacun Fenjiu. I’ve always liked Guilin Sanhua in the rice-aroma category, and Vinn Distillery in Portland makes a nice one as well.
The more I drink baijiu, the more I enjoy the more complex iterations as well, like Kweichow Moutai Feitian, Xifengjiu, Dongjiu, etc.
Do you have any good baijiu stories to share?
Too many to count. Perhaps my most joyous episode of drinking baijiu was with a couple of friends at a hotpot joint in Chengdu, where we just went full Lao Chuan and drank a bottle of Wuliangye shirtless with a bunch of friendly PLA. That’s the way to do it, if you ask me.
Read more confessions here.