Baijiu: China’s Potent—and Pungent—Export
By Tara Nurin
its aroma is charitably described as
funky, its flavor as complex. It’s Chinese,
powerful (100 to 120 proof) and ancient.
Largely because of the number of people
who consume it in China, it’s the world’s
It’s called baijiu.
Robert Yang of Allendale Wine Shoppe
in Bergen County, who stocks seven varieties, says businessmen in China knock down
straight shots “like water.” Thanks to a
surge in American distribution, Jerseyans
should soon be able to choose from more
brands in more retail outlets.
Baijiu means “white liquor.” The most
common form is distilled from sorghum
fermented for up to a year underground in
clay vessels or (not kidding) mud pits. After
distillation, the spent grain is re-inoculated
with mold and thrown back into the pits,
where traces might live on in future batches
for 100 years or more.
I brought home a bottle from China.
The brand name translates as Mr. Cat’s
Philosophy, but I have to admit litterbox
comes to mind. I would describe its aroma
as perfumey, piney, dirty diaper. That, I’m
told, is a good thing.
“The highest compliment you can pay
1915, an internationally award-winning light
a drink in China is to call it hen xiang, or
quite fragrant,” says Derek Sandhaus,
co-owner of the Ming River brand, available
in New York and, soon, New Jersey. “In
much the way a gourmet purveyor might
prize a particularly stinky blue cheese, the
baijiu manufacturer strives for an assertive
Baijiu generally comes in six flavors,
known as fragrances: strong and sauce are
the most challenging; light and rice are
more approachable. I recently tasted the
from the Hengshui Laobaigan distillery. It
tasted of fresh grass and was much more
palate pleasing than Mr. Cat’s Philosophy.
The 1915 will likely retail for around $250
per 750 milliliter bottle when it comes to
New Jersey, possibly next year. Much less
expensive bottles are available at Wine
Shoppe and at Wine Chateau in Metuchen.
The venerable Jersey City dive bar
Golden Cicada serves baijiu shots. For most
of us, the easiest intro is in a cocktail. Sandhaus recommends adding a bit to sours and
tiki drinks. I’d suggest it as the liquor in a
gift of fish this
Purchase $200 worth
of gift cards from
one of our restaurants,
and enjoy a lobster dinner
on us in the new year.
See legalseafoods.com for our Christmas hours.
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