We’ve taken deep dives into spirits from multiple continents around the world, including Asia.
But when talking about liquor originating from this particular part of the world, there is one that always seems to be forgotten.
On top of sake, soju, and Japanese whisky, there is also baijiu – a distilled liquor that hails from China, and is the country’s national drink.
Curious to find out more? Read on and get to know this alcoholic beverage a little better.
What is baijiu?
Baijiu is a clear, distilled Chinese liquor with a high alcohol content, typically coming in between 35% and 60% ABV.
It’s typically made of fermented sorghum, a type of cereal grain widely cultivated in Africa, Asia, and the Americas.
Distillers may choose to use other grains to create baijiu, and this is also allowed.
Baijiu comes in different types and flavors. In general, the taste is described as earthy, with hints of sweetness and a little bit of sourness.
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How did baijiu come about?
Baijiu has a long history dating back to the Neolithic Age, where it was made by ancient Chinese people.
The distillation technology for producing baijiu matured around the Ming dynasty, and since then, baijiu has evolved into the diverse array of spirits we know today.
In China, baiijiu drinking is largely a male activity. It’s often consumed in a festive atmosphere, and is meant to connect people in social gatherings.
How is baijiu made?
Baijiu is made using a process similar to whisky. The main differences are in the grains used, the fermentation starter, and the container used for aging.
Instead of malted barley, baijiu is made by distilling fermented sorghum, which is first mixed with water and qū.
This is an East Asian fermentation starter that contains yeast and other microorganisms.
The type of qū used will result in a different kind of baijiu. Whisky production doesn’t use this particular ingredient.
Fermentation of sorghum lasts several weeks before distillation.
The distillation process results in a high alcohol drink, which is then refined to remove any impurities.
For aging, baijiu is not aged in oak casks like whisky. Instead, it’s left to mature in clay or ceramic pots in order to develop its unique flavour.
According to Moutai, which is considered the finest baijiu, the aging process can take more than five years.
However, this all depends on the type of baijiu and the brand that distills it.
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What are the different types of baijiu?
Some liquors are classified according to period of aging, or the type of oak used for aging.
When it comes to baijiu, producers classify the drink according to the intensity of the aroma.
Here are some of the most common types of baiijiu:
1. Strong aroma baijiu
This variety is made using a variety of sources and is fermented in underground pits.
Strong aroma baijiu is known for its potent taste that is balanced out by a sweet fruitiness.
It’s closely associated with the Sichuan province.
2. Light aroma baijiu
Light aroma baijiu is fermented with big qū, and is made of barley and peas instead of sorghum.
This type of baijiu has a mild floral sweetness, and is commonly associated with northern China.
3. Sauce aroma baijiu
With the sauce aroma baijiu, the fermentation process takes up to a year! It has a mellow taste, with a layered flavour of herbs.
It’s most closely associated to the southeastern sichuan and northwestern Guizhou regions.
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4. Rice aroma baijiu
Unlike baijiu in general, this variety uses long-grain rice and herbs in its ingredients.
It has the lightest taste of all baijiu, and is popular in Southeast China.
5. What is the proper way to drink baijiu?
Baijiu is best consumed in celebration, as this drink is a social beverage.
Traditionally, baijiu is served in a small glass or cup, and is often consumed as part of a toast.
The proper way to enjoy baijiu is to take small sips to savor the unique flavour profile. Some also choose to drink baijiu as a shot!
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