The first baijiu master class by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) was held two weeks ago at company headquarters in London.
Paul Mathew, who co-owns three bars in the city–The Hide, The Arbitrager and Demon, Wise & Partners–and spent over four years in China where he worked as an alcohol industry consultant, including on baijiu brands, led the class. Mathew said the event drew a mix of trade professionals and interested consumers.
“There was a real mix of participants–from Wine & Spirits Education Trust staff and drinks industry writers and bloggers, through to Brits who had lived in China and held fond memories of baijiu!” says Mathew. “Interestingly we also had a Chinese participant who works with one of the big brands and was interested to see what people in the UK thought of it, and even one chap who plans to open the UK’s first baijiu bar”.
Mathew started different parts of the tasting session with other spirits, including un-aged French grape spirit, agricole rhum and un-aged Scotch grain spirit, to give some reference points for the characteristics of baijiu. He presented samples from six baijiu brands in all, including the light-aroma Hongxing, strong-aroma Luzhou Laojiao, Shuijingfang, Wenjun and Wuliangye, and sauce-aroma Maotaizhen.
“We finished with the Maotai,” said Mathew. “It was one of the favourites, particularly of the WSET team, who appreciated the distinct umami flavours.”
Mathew, who has experimented with and written about baijiu-based cocktails for a half-dozen years, later got out his bartending tools and made a few drinks at The Hide, below WSET, to finish the class.
While baijiu is the most-consumed spirit in the world, it’s not well-known outside of China, thus the class will help increase awareness of this unique alcohol category.
Those who missed the class can try some baijiu samples and baijiu-inspired cocktails at The Hide Bar on World Baijiu Day on August 8. See here for more details. And see here for a full list of events and here for a map of those events.
Note: Ian Harris and Lydia Harrison of WSET gave the green light for this project on short notice and deserve much credit for taking the risk. Kweichow Maotaizhen was provided courtesy of Karine Tillard at Mangrove while Shuijingfang was provided via Jim Rice at SwellFun and Dan Hamilton and Peter Hu at Diageo. Finally, Paul Mathew spent a great deal of time sourcing baijiu, creating cocktail recipes and making tasting notes and other class materials. If that first baijiu master class had been a baijiu, he would have been its qu, so to speak.