By Jim Boyce | In a Cognac- and Bordeaux-crazy country like China, it’s no surprise local producers are using barrels for baijiu, the national spirit. I tried one such effort, Longhui Manor from China mega-producer Luzhao Laojiao, courtesy of Guillaume Cochard, who works in China’s wine trade but is also active in Chengdu Baijiu Club.
We cracked the bottle at Beijing bar Herbal and out surged the telltale pungency of a strong aroma (nóng xiāng) baijiu. It’s a sweet peachy solvent-y kind of smell. (Hello, ethyl acetate.)
Poured into a snifter, and with time to breath, this baijiu gains complexity, with pleasing plum and then vanilla, caramel and cocoa aromas. In the mouth, it has a striking but not syrupy sweetness, more vanilla and caramel plus a smoky element, and a tannic and slightly spicy finish. We tested it on several Herbal customers to good reviews.
While Longhui has textures and aromas akin to whiskeys, I liked it was distinctly a baijiu, with that spirit’s edgier aspects tamed by wood. Given the intensity, I was curious as to whether any sugar or caramel had been added. A company rep later told me that was a common query but that there were no additives.
As for price, that is tougher to swallow, with a 500 ml bottle tagged at rmb1280. Then again, there are plenty of Cognac and whiskey drinkers flush with cash, so if Longhui Manor can tap that market…
A pamphlet with the baijiu outlines the PPO classification used on each bottle. The first P refers to the age of the fermentation pits, the second P to maturation time in ceramic containers and the O to time spent aging in barrels.
Our bottle was labeled 30-3-2: the baijiu was made in 30-year-old pits, aged in ceramic for 3 years and aged in oak for 2 years.
In terms of key personnel, Shen Caihong is listed as consultant and a “grand master of baijiu brewing” and consultant, Zhao Jinsong as a brewing expert and Longhui’s chief development officer, and Andrei Prida as a consultant and the technical director for Seguin Moreau, headquartered in Cognac and the source of the barrels.
Bar Herbal features Chinese medicinal ingredients in its drinks and is co-owned by A-Jian, who made excellent baijiu cocktails at his former venture, The Bar. It will participating in the upcoming World Baijiu Day on August 9.
World Baijiu Day is August 9. See the 2018 events list here. Sign up an event here. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. I also run the China wine site Grape Wall and nightlife site Beijing Boyce.