Jim Boyce | Pleasantly surprised is the typical reaction when someone first tries Taizi. Not only because it hails from New Zealand, a nation few would associate with baijiu, but also due to the taste.
Taizi is made with Australia sorghum and New Zealand wheat and classified as a “light aroma” baijiu, a category that includes erguotou and fenjiu from northern China and gives a nod to kaoliang from Taiwan, the birthplace of the company’s owners. The aroma is light, fresh and complex with floral, stone fruit and herbal characteristics as well as a touch of graininess. It’s deceptively mild compared to the 110-proof powered kick below. While this spirit is strong, it is also clean and balanced, with a slight viscosity and a spicy licorice-y finish that warms more than burns and lasts for minutes. In consumer tastings I have helped organize, typically with six to eight baijius, Taizi usually ranks in the top two and is often number one. It’s a spirit people for which people ask seconds.
There’s nothing magical about Taizi, says Ben Lu, who runs the company with brother Sam Lu. The basic science and methodology behind the spirit is the same as used in China. The key differences, besides the antipodean raw materials, is equipment. The Lus use a copper distillery made by John Dore in the 1850s and do multiple distillations “so the alcohol is more refined.”
The brothers, who moved to New Zealand from Taiwan in 1994, started making baijiu for a simple reason. They love drinking it.
“I drink it everyday,” says Ben. “Quality control.”
They founded New Zealand Chinese Liquor in 2009 in Christchurch, although their plans were slowed by earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. The first first bottles of Taizi, made by John Fitzpatrick, rolled out in 2013.
Production is 21,000 bottles per year and, says Ben, there are no plans to expand.
“We hope to keep it boutique,” he says.
For World Baijiu Day, Taizi teamed up with Pot Sticker Dumpling Bar in Christchurch and served its spirit both straight and in cocktails alongside the food (see below). Ben says he prefers his Taizi on ice but notes his mother cuts it with mineral water to about 20 percent alcohol. He also had high praise for the cocktails at PSDB.
Taizi is priced in New Zealand at 150 dollars. For now, it’s is available in local department and alcohol stores as well as duty free in Auckland airport. Ben says he is also approaching a Chinese airline to make it part of the in-flight duty free offerings and and aims to make it available on Tmall.