During holidays, visiting relatives and friends with a bottle of good wine or spirit is an indispensable part. Liquor is a popular gift choice for many occasions. According to the WHO (World Health Organization), China is the world’s largest producer of distilled liquor, with an average annual of almost 12 million kiloliters. At the same time, it is also the world’s largest consumer of spirits. However, although China is the largest producer and consumer of distilled liquor in the world, it is non-Chinese spirits that occupy a monopoly position in the international market. Why Chinese baijiu hasn’t been able to hit the market yet?
Well established to the public, the top six spirits in the world are: gin (ABV 35%-55%); whisky (ABV 40%-80%); brandy (ABV 40%-43%); vodka (ABV 40%-50%); rum (ABV 45%-50%) and tequila (ABV 37%-40%). Compared to these popular liquors, however, Chinese baijiu, the sorghum spirit even though trying hard to arrive on the international market, hasn’t yet managed to enter the global bar scene. The reasons might come down to the differences between those liquors and consumer habits in the western world.
Chinese baijiu is a kind of distilled spirit, mainly produced in mainland China and Taiwan. It is the most commonly drunk distilled spirit in China, and a common gift for traditional festivals. In fact, it is a mixed term that contains different kinds of distilled liquor. Its raw materials are various grains; and the core brewing technology is solid-state fermentation technology of pure grains, which is the most significant difference between Chinese baijiu and other spirits. Because sorghum is the main material for most baijiu brands, baijiu can also be called Chinese sorghum spirit.
Differences in Raw Materials
Compared to other spirits, one main difference between baijiu and the others lies in the raw materials.
Whisky is usually made from barley, rye, oats, wheat or corn, with the most well-known feature that it needs to be kept and aged in oak barrels for a few years. For vodka, the most widely used ingredients are grains, such as rye, wheat or corn, however, the myth of potato-made vodka is persistent, and those vodkas do exist. Distinct from several other distilled spirits, the main characteristic of vodka is its purity and clean flavor, omitting any strong influence of grain or fruit on the palate. Gin gets its distinctive flavor from infusing juniper berries using any other grain spirit as a base for distillation, and some manufacturers will use additional botanicals like orange peel, nutmeg, licorice, coriander, and other special raw materials to make it more memorable. In comparison, rum and brandy are comparatively similar in the aspect of using sugary rather than starchy fermentation materials. Rum’s raw material is molasses from sugarcane, byproducts of the sugar industry. Brandy is usually made from grapes, but fruit brandies made from cherries, plums, apples and other fruits are widely spread too.
The main difference between baijiu and the above kinds of distilled liquors is that baijiu is the only one that actively uses qu (yeast) to participate in the fermentation process. The fermentation starter for Chinese baijiu plays a big role in the resulting flavor profile and is unique to its spirit. Sorghum fermented by means of qu contains a large number of aldehydes. Esterification of aldehydes and alcohols results in complex aroma, which is different from other distilled liquors.
That’s what makes baijiu in the eyes of non-drinkers or non-Chinese taste pungent and overbearing.
Differences of the Flavors
Compared with other spirits, Chinese baijiu is produced through open-ended production, natural fermentation and at the same time involves more use of microorganisms. As a result, there are a lot of other compounds in Chinese baijiu besides alcohol and water.
Baijiu flavors can be divided into thirteen types, but here is a selection of the main ones: sauce aroma, strong aroma, light aroma and rice aroma. For people being used to the straight-forward taste of vodka, the fruity sweetness of brandy or the comforting layers in a whisky, the foreign complexity of Chinese baijiu is often hard to accept.
In recent years, with the improvement and revolution of Chinese baijiu, as well as new efforts in market development, this ancient drink has become more and more approachable for cosmopolitans. Baijiu cocktail bars have been set up one after another in scene hotspots like New York or Liverpool. And some baijiu brands are making an effort to upgrade the aroma of their products according to the times. The small-qu light aroma baijiu from JIANGXIAOBAI is produced with elegant fragrance in mind, making it suitable for making simple mixed drinks and world-class cocktails alike. More and more young drinkers have become fond of JIANGXIAOBAI sorghum spirits over the last years.
Still it remains to be seen, if shortly more people will taste Chinese baijiu and take a fancy to it. It might be true that Chinese baijiu could someday become a main staple of any bar, introducing a new wave of cocktails to the world.
For more information, please visit: https://www.jiangjidistillery.com/