Noble Know How: Baijiu…what is it?
Your regular nugget of Noble alcohol industry knowledge…
Pronounced ‘Bye-Joe’ for those in the know, Baijiu is a Chinese alcoholic beverage made from grain. Also known as sorghum wine or shaojiu it is literally translated as ‘white alcohol’ and is a strong distilled spirit – usually between 40 and 60% alcohol.
This drink has been around for over 5000 years and can be made in various forms. Generally, a clear liquid distilled from fermented sorghum (an ancient Asian grain) some varieties also use glutinous rice, wheat, barley or millet. It’s final defining point is the use of a jiugu starter culture in the production of the baijiu mash which is more often made of pulversed wheat grains.
Baijiu has a distinctive smell and taste that is highly valued in Chinese culinary culture. Connoisseurs of the beverage really focus on its fragrance. Low grades of baijiu can be quite inexpensive; however, higher grades, which are often aged for many years, can command much higher prices. The most expensive bottles can be up in the thousands of dollars.
Because of its clarity, baijiu appears similar to several other Asian liquors, but it generally has a higher alcohol content than, for example, Japanese shõchu which is around 25% or Korean soju around 20-45%. It is much closer to a vodka in strength and mouth feel.
Baijiu’s are traditionally drunk in shots with a big meal but are also drunk at all major Chinese festivities…it can be customary for everyone at an event to have a shot! Its potency means it can be difficult to add anything however there are certainly people experimenting with the white liquor. Our friends at Lot 1, Sydney and Marble Sydney, Sydney have been trying their hands at a few concoctions over the last month with fabulous results.
If you are interested in a taste of this intriguing spirit, Hong Kong Baijiu (HKB) and it’s gorgeous bright red bottle can be a good place to start, with hints of sweetness and pineapple to the nose. Sydney stockists include Lotus Dining, Fisherman’s Drink Wines and Lot 1 and Melbourne stockists include Wigs Cellars, The Wine Depot and Harvest Wine & Liquor.