Terms

I’m posting this initial list of terms tonight, August 22, and will add more over the next few hours and days and weeks. Along with info gathered during the past four years of helping organize World Baijiu Day, I’ve also found the baijiu posts at Science Direct, Alcademics and Wikipedia useful. I’m sure I have a few things wrong but will work to expand this section and make it as accurate as possible.

Baigan

(白干 báigān) Another word for baijiu. Bai translates to white or clear, gan to dry.

Baijiu

(白酒 báijiǔ) A traditional Chinese spirit made through fermenting and distilling grain. Bai means clear or white, jiu means alcohol or liquor. Baijiu is the world’s most-consumed spirit, with production estimated at more than 10 billion liters per year. To get a sense of that amount, see here.

Daqu

(大曲 dàqū) Da means ‘big’ and ‘qu’ means starter. Moist crushed wheat, with barley or peas, are shaped into a brick and aged in a warm humid room for several weeks to months to acquire mold, bacteria and fungi. Funky!

Daqu is pulverized and spread onto moist cooked or steamed grain before it goes into a fermentation container. The bricks can be incredibly strong: pounding one with metal chair broke off not a single piece when making a Qu Brew for World Baijiu Day. We had to resort to a hammer.

Erguotou

(二锅头 èrguōtóu) Like fenjiu, a style of light-fragrance baijiu, popular in northern China and especially in the Beijing area. Erguotou translates to ‘second pot head’ and means second distillation. Better-known brands include Red Star (红星), Niulanshan (牛栏山) and Yidanliang (一担粮), all with entry level-bottles at less than USD2. Erguotou is a cheap way to get drunk.

Fenjiu

(汾酒 fénjiǔ) Like erguotou, it’s a style of light-fragrance baijiu. Sorghum-based, it hails from Shanxi province.

Fermentation

After starch in the grains breaks down into sugars, the magic of yeast converts them to ethanol (alcohol) and carbon dioxide. In simple terms, it’s a two-step dance: glycosis sees yeast turn sugar into pyruvate molecules, then fermentation sees those turn into two carbon dioxide and two ethanol molecules. It’s humbling but booze, including baijiu, is yeast’s leftovers.

Fuqu

(麸曲 fū qū) Like daqu and xiaoqu, fuqu (‘bran starter’) gets the whole saccharification and fermentation process going, though in this case for a particular style of baijiu: erguotou. Fuqu uses the fungus Aspergillus. I like the sound of that fungi.

Ganbei

(干杯 gānbēi) The Chinese equivalent of “bottoms up”, it translates as “dry glass” or “dry cup”. It’s a crucial part of drinking culture in China and all kinds of status-oriented situations. Knowing who to ganbei and when can help maintain social harmony. It can also have you wasted beyond belief quick.

Grain

While sorghum is most famously used for making baijiu, numerous other grains can also be included in the mix. Everything from barley and millet to wheat and corn. And, of course, rice. Sichuan brand Wuliangye (五粮液 Wǔliángyè) translates to ‘five grain liquid’. It puts the yay in yè.

Kaoliang

A type of sorghum-based light-fragrance baijiu associated with the island of Kinmen. The Chinese word for sorghum is gaoliang (高粱 gāoliang).

Light-fragrance baijiu

(清香 qīng xiāng) Linked with northern China, this baijiu style is sorghum-based and fermented in ceramic jars or, for industrial-level quantities, in far bigger receptacles. Fenjiu and erguotou are famous examples of this style. Compared to the process for sauce-fragrance and strong-fragrance baijius, making this style is fast and easy. Entry-level baijius of this style are cheap.

Paojiu

Baijiu infused with sugar and pretty much anything from fruit to chili peppers to Chinese medicinal ingredients to ants. Want to do your own? Check this out.

Qu

(曲 qū) ‘Qu’ means starter and its crucial ingredients that initiates the dual processes of saccharification and fermentation in baijiu-making. Different styles of baijiu used different qu, from brick-like daqu to the rice-based xiaoqu to erguotou‘s friendly helper fuqu.

Saccharification

The breaking down of starch from grain, such as sorghum, into simple sugars that can be converted by fermentation into alcohol. In making baijiu, both processes happen simultaneously. That’s one that makes this spirit special.

Sauce-fragrance baijiu

(酱香 jiàngxiāng) Linked with northwest Guizhou and southeast Sichuan provinces. Maotai the best-known producer. “Sauce’ is appropriate as the odor evokes soy sauce, sesame, bean paste and other umami-esque smells. Sauce-fragrance baijiu uses sorghum as a base and goes through multiple cycles of fermentation, in brick-lined pits, and distillations. It’s a long and labor-intensive and almost Sisyphean process.

Shaojiu

(烧酒 shāojiǔ) Another word for baijiu, meaning “fired” or “burned” liquor.

Sorghum

(高粱 gāoliang) The grain most associated with baijiu.

Strong-fragrance baijiu

(浓香 nóng xiāng) The style most prominent in China and most associated with Sichuan province. It can use one grain ( 单粮 dānliáng) or multiple grains (杂粮 záliáng). Famous brands include Jiannanchun (泸州老窖 Jiànnánchūn), Luzhou Laojiao ( 泸州老窖 Lúzhōu Lǎojiào) and Wuliangye (五粮液 Wǔliángyè).