The origins of baijiu are shrouded in a mysterious mist.
Like the vapours from which the spirit emerges, the origins of baijiu are shrouded in a mysterious mist.
Some claims put its beginnings to several thousand years while others mark its origin to the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279), a period of great engineering, scientific and technological advances as gunpowder, the compass, printing, and paper money were invented in China during this time.
Whatever the origin of baijiu, what is not in any doubt is that the distilled spirit commands a special place in Chinese culture.
Baijiu is usually distilled from fermented sorghum or a mixture of sorghum with other grains.
Baijiu is called upon to wish a friend a safe passage when leaving on a long journey. On a happier note, no celebration – wedding or birth of a child – would be complete without baijiu. And what better way to usher in the New Year or Spring Festival than with baijiu.
Baijiu is also a much valued gift to honoured guests and business partners.
The spirit is a source of enjoyment for body and soul.
What is Baijiu?
Baijiu is actually produced around the world, not just in China.
Vodka and gin are also baijiu, but known by other names.
Part of the family of colourless spirit – like whisky and cognac when they first emerge from copper stills as eau de vie before spending time in oak barrel – baijiu is a convenient term to describe a colourless spirit. Actually, jiu is never bai or white. Instead, baijiu is clear or transparent like water. Milk, on the other hand, is definitely white.
Baijiu is produced from sorghum or a mixture of sorghum with other grains.
Baijiu is one of the great spirits of the world.
Although most baijiu are 52 or 53% in alcohol, there are also baijiu that are 40 to 42%. Like producing Single Malt Whisky and Cognac, when the baijiu spirit emerges from the still, the baijiu master distiller only collects the heart of the flow.
Different Types of Baijiu
Baijiu is usually distilled from fermented sorghum or a mixture of sorghum with other grains. Baijiu can also be produced from rice, glutinous rice, wheat, barley, maize, and millet, or a mixture of them.
The pits used to hold the fermenting sorghum or other grains are made from earth, stone or cement.
Earthen jars dug into the ground are also used.
Depending on the style of baijiu, the sorghum or other grains can be left in the pit or jar from 15 days to one, two, three, even four months.
Although most baijiu are 52 or 53% in alcohol, there are also baijiu that are 40 to 42%. The lower alcohol baijiu either have water added to an originally higher alcohol baijiu, or the baijiu is produced by a spirit collected at lower alcohols during the distillation process.
How Baijiu is Produced
Baijiu can be produced in a semi-solid state or a liquid state fermentation.
Baijiu uses jiu qu, a saccharification fermentation starter. The types of jiu qu or fermentation starters include da qu, xiao qu, hong qu and fu qu. Depending on which type of jiu qu is used – and other considerations such as the material used to make the pit – a different style of baijiu will be produced with different aromas and flavours.
Baijiu uses jiu qu, a saccharification fermentation starter.
Baijiu is produced by collecting the vapours from steaming sorghum and other grains that have been fermented in a semi-solid or liquid state.
Like producing Single Malt Whisky and Cognac, when the baijiu spirit emerges from the still, the baijiu master distiller only collects the heart of the flow. He will not take the head nor the tail (less alcoholic and more dilute in flavours).
The head is high in alcohol and robust. And can bring complex aroma and flavours to the baijiu. The small amount of head is much valued and the master distiller will age this to blend with the baijiu at a later time. The tail is added to the next batch during the steaming.
The Aromatic Classifications of Baijiu
Baijiu is usually classified according to aroma.
The system of classification began in 1952 and was updated in 1979 at the 3rd National Baijiu Competition in Dalian. During the competition, apart from the aromas, experts also rated baijiu on taste.
The three principal aromas of baijiu are Sauce Aroma (Jiang Xiang), Strong Aroma (Nong Xiang) and Light Aroma (Qing Xiang).
Master Distiller LAI Gau Huai was born in Luzhou in 1934. Since 1955, when he joined a distillery at 21 years young, he has introduced important innovations in baijiu production. In 2007, Lai’s contribution to the industry was recognised by the Chinese Government when he was named a “Guardian” of baijiu.
How to Drink Baijiu
Like the other great beverages of the world, you can enjoy baijiu thoroughly on its own.
You may serve it at room temperature as most Chinese people do, or you can choose to serve it cool to cold. There is nothing to stop you from adding ice to baijiu.
You can drink baijiu like vodka in a single shot, or sip, savour, and enjoy it slowly like a Single Malt Whisky, Cognac or Armagnac with your favourite piece of music or book.
Baijiu is also very versatile as a mixer.
It is up to your fertile imagination what you wish to add to it to create your own unique baijiu cocktail.
Baijiu with Cuisine
Baijiu loves food.
Like sake, wine or other spirits such as Soju, Single Malt Whisky, Cognac or Armagnac, baijiu is an irresistible pairing with Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Korean, French, Italian, Spanish and as many other cuisines as there are flags of the United Nations.