Baijiu-inspired ice cream and gelato has been a part of World Baijiu Day since the start in 2015, from the baijiulato made by Lu Spirits and Stikki Nikki in Stockholm to the byejoe ice cream at Tipsy Dessert Bar in Houston to the deep-fried baijiu ice cream at The Brickyard in Beijing.
This year, Shenzhen gelato specialists Cream Story will feature no fewer than five baijiu-inspired gelatos for World Baijiu Day, including a regular menu item that includes Moutai. I asked Zhang Si and Tommaso of Cream Story about the challenges of making baijiu gelato, their new flavors, their experiences with this spirit, expansion plans and more.
World Baijiu Day: What was your first experience drinking baijiu?
Zhang Si: I grew up in Hebei province in the 90s. My parents, relatives and friends would all drink baijiu. My grandmother also loves it–she’s still drinking now even though she’s over 80 years old.
Both my brother and I first tried baijiu when we were about four or five years old. We were curious about the taste since everyone was drinking it. I remember the first sip I ever had felt really spicy and hot.
Do you have any crazy baijiu drinking stories?
Zhang Si: There must be a lot of good stories that I forgot due to having a little too much baijiu.
One very clear memory is of a bottle of Maotai that I shared with friends in Italy. We just got our degrees from Bologna University and wanted to celebrate our graduation. A friend brought a bottle of baijiu that he had been saving specifically for that occasion.
The bottle was already some years old when he brought it from China; it must have been over five years old at that time. I vividly remember the slightly yellowish color, the smell that permeated the whole room and the smooth and long-lasting taste of the liquor.
There are other well-aged bottles that I remember. I tasted one limited-edition ‘Year of the Tiger’ Maotai that was remarkable. And a bottle of Fenjiu aged over 10 year. I prefer baijiu with longer bottle aging.
What inspired you to open a gelato shop–and why in Shenzhen?
Zhang Si: Shenzhen is simply the place where we live, there wasn’t much thought behind the choice. After 2020, it was impossible for us to move between China and Italy as we used to do. My daughters were missing their gelato fix and I suddenly realized how much I loved eating gelato while living in Italy. It set me on a mission!
What was the biggest challenge in making your first baijiu gelato?
Tommaso: Frozen desserts, as the word implies, must be able to be “frozen.” And alcohol is a potent anti-freeze, therefore making ice cream with liquor poses limitations, even if we all know and love something like rum and raisin ice cream.
The main issue is striking a balance with the taste of the liquor, as it can only be added in limited amounts without making the gelato too runny.
How did consumers react to that Moutai gelato? Did you find a particular demographic liked / tried it?
Zhang Si: Everyone wants to at least try it. For many older men it is almost compulsory, but I would say that the demographic more open to liquor flavors in general, including baijiu, is young women.
You are adding more baijiu flavors, including Fenjiu, for World Baijiu Day. How did Fenjiu gelato work out?
Tommaso: Fenjiu has a delicate flavor that poses exactly the type of challenge I mentioned. After testing, we opted for an egg yolk-based Tiramisu gelato recipe that allowed us to add a bit more liquor, thanks to the structure that egg yolk gives to ice cream.
Tiramisu asks for Marsala, another type of alcoholic drink in which molds and fungi impart much of the taste, so switching that ingredient for baijiu felt natural.
What other baijiu flavors are you adding?
Tommaso: We have Maotai, both in a plain dairy gelato that Italians call Fiordilatte and in a chocolate gelato version. We will also have 1573 [from Luzhou Laojiao] with coconut. Plus, the Fenjiu Tiramisu.
Apart from the big names like Maotai, Luzhou Laojiao and Fenjiu, we worked with Xifeng: there aren’t a lot of drinks that have more than two millennia of history behind them. We matched it with the king of Chinese fruit, the honey peach, for a Xifeng peach sorbet.
How much alcohol is in these gelatos? And how drunk did you get while testing all of the flavors!?
Tommaso: The alcohol content is 2% to 4%; higher for flavors with very compact structures like chocolate. It’s not a matter of taste but of technological limits. It’s hard to get drunk on it, but enjoying this gelato is certainly stimulating.
Finally, what’s next for Cream Story?
Zhang Si: We have two temporary shops already opening and we are working behind the scenes on a flagship location in Shenzhen. We are soon venturing beyond the city as well.
Tommaso: We are also developing new products, such as Semifreddi, the Italian equivalent of ice cream cake. It doesn’t get the attention it deserves, but semifreddo is the reason why frozen desserts became popular in Europe, and then the world, long before ice cream in a cup became popular. We’re going to make baijiu part of that, too.