By Jim Boyce | Richard Auffrey of the Passionate Foodie blog, now in its tenth year, has been on a baijiu roll lately: see this post, this post and this post, among many others. In the past month alone, Auffrey has tasted a bunch of baijiu brands, experimented with food pairings, and read up on Chinese drinking traditions, all from his base in Massachusetts. I asked him a few questions about his experiences.
You’ve been writing a lot about baijiu. Do you think the U.S. is ready for this spirit?
This is a great time for spirit lovers, with a surge of craft distilleries all across the world. There is a deep appreciation for unique spirits so now is an excellent time to highlight and showcase the wonders of baijiu.
Baijiu is one of the most unique spirits out there so it should appeal to many people with adventurous palates. Bartenders are always seeking something new and fascinating to use in cocktails and baijiu fits that desire.
As bartenders are often at the forefront of introducing new spirits to consumers, baijiu can spread to many consumers. Baijiu also will appeal to the myriad of people who are now concerned with terroir and a sense of place.
What’s the most common reaction when you first mention baijiu and then when people first taste it?
Befuddlement. Most people know little, if anything, about baijiu, so they ask plenty of questions about it when I raise the topic. They are intrigued when I tell them some of the details of baijiu and they want to try it.
When they try baijiu for the first time, much depends on the style / type they sample. They usually aren’t ready to appreciate a sauce aroma like Moutai, finding its smell and taste far too strong and off-putting, but if they try some of the milder styles / types, like Hong Kong Baijiu, they are surprised at how delicious it can be.
You’re tried different styles of baijiu, including sauce, strong and light aroma. Is there a particular style you think works best for first-timers?
In general, I think strong aroma baijiu might often be an excellent gateway to introduce newcomers to baijiu but there will be exceptions. Some of the earthier strong aroma baijius would not be good. Instead, seek out the fruitier, strong aroma baijiu and once people are hooked, they can move onto other baijiu.
I also noticed you’ve tried numerous baijiu cocktails, and that tropical fruit flavors tend to strike you as fitting. Is that a good basis for someone making drinks at home?
Yes, adding tropical fruit flavors to baijiu is a simple way to create a baijiu cocktail at home. During the summer, you could even make a frozen baijiu cocktail, adding ice and tropical fruit juices.
I’m continuing my own explorations of baijiu cocktails, and feel it can be quite versatile. Maybe try some baijiu, vermouth and bitters, an interesting variation of a Manhattan.
I don’t think many people realize the U.S. has a baijiu producer, Vinn Distillery in Portland. What’s your take on their baijiu?
I was impressed with the complexity and taste of Vinn baijiu, finding it reminiscent in some ways to Japanese sake. However, as it has an intriguing earthy component, I’m not sure it would appeal to many people new to baijiu, unless they experienced it in a cocktail. The family behind Vinn has been creating baijiu for over seven generations and it is truly a work of passion.
Read more of Auffrey’s posts here.