UnTour Food Tours is teaming up with Shanghai bar Healer for World Baijiu Day fun, including a master class and tailor-made cocktails. I asked Jamie Barys, co-founder of UnTour, about what to expect and her other experiences with China’s national spirit.
Boyce: You guys are teaming with Phoebe Han at Healer for a baijiu class on August 9. Why Healer?
Barys: Any excuse to work with Phoebe! When she first came to Shanghai, Phoebe mixed cocktails with some of the city’s best bartenders at Kee Club, The Nest and The Apartment, but she wanted to change the way people perceived Chinese spirits. In 2016, she opened Healer Bar in the former French Concession.
Designed to educate as well as inebriate, Healer often hosts educational workshops on Chinese spirits. And the bar has a long list of cocktails that include more than 20 drinks that utilize baijiu, plus more that include huangjiu and other local ingredients. So when we were planning World Baijiu Day events, she was our natural choice.
Check out the top shelf of the bar to see the rainbow of baijiu that Phoebe has infused herself to create spirits that work equally well in cocktails or as shots to ganbei.
To give you just a taste of what Phoebe can do, the Hossu was her first attempt at a baijiu cocktail and has become a staple on the menu. With rye whiskey, bamboo leaf-infused baijiu, demerara syrup and chocolate bitters, it’s topped with a huangjiu (yellow wine)-soaked dried plum.
Its description suggests a Manhattan, but the taste experience is Shanghai through and through. The bamboo baijiu is a light aroma variety from Shanxi province infused with over a dozen ingredients, including traditional Chinese medicinal herbs. Han likens it to chartreuse.
What can people expect during the class? Lots of ganbei?
You can ganbei if you want to, but our goal here is to discover what kind of baijiu you love. During the masterclass, Phoebe will explain the history and distillation process of baijiu, as well as the different aromas of baijiu and how to create infusions to make excellent baijiu cocktails.
While you’re learning about the different types of baijiu, you’ll also be sipping on a flight of the spirit. After you discover what your favorite from the flight is, Phoebe will mix you a delicious, bespoke cocktail based on your palate.
You guys also feature China’s national spirit in your tours. How does baijiu fit the itinerary?
On our dinner tours in Shanghai and Beijing, we usually start the tour with a shot or two – it doubles as an aperitif and an icebreaker. We love introducing the world’s most consumed liquor to people who have never even heard of it!
What’s the initial attitude of most people on the tour to baijiu?
We’ve worked hard to find a good “starter” baijiu that surprises many guests who’ve been forced to drink stronger stuff at wedding receptions or banquets. For example, we drink a Confucius Wisdom on our Shanghai routes that is only about 39% alcohol by volume and has notes of pineapple and bubble gum. You’d be surprised by how many people want to double down – especially as we drink it out of traditional thimble-sized glasses.
Do you have any wild and wacky baijiu experiences to share?
My first taste of baijiu was as a study abroad student at Peking University in 2005, and it took me years to try it again. We had rented a bus to drive to Pingyao on October 1st, not fully understanding what that would mean.
When our bus was still within Beijing city limits seven hours after we had set off, we knew things were looking dire, so we stocked up on ergoutou at the first bus stop we could find, and turned our transport into a party bus for the rest of our ride.
First baijiu hangover, and first night sleeping on a kang. It was a real eye-opening trip.