Dine This traditional, hyper-artisanal Chinese spirit is unlike any other—making it an appealing ingredient for inventive mixologists and a taste you should get to know.
By Chantal Martineau
as you approach the towns known for making baijiu, the
Chinese spirit that’s now the hottest cocktail ingredient
in two hemispheres, you might pick up its perfume even
from beyond city limits. Baijiu is powerfully aromatic and
endlessly complex—an acquired taste, to put it mildly.
Baijiu is China’s national spirit, and although it’s still
largely unknown globally, it is the most consumed on
Earth by volume. Over the last decade, sales have grown
from 600 million cases to 1. 2 billion. And adding to that
total lately are bartenders working outside China who
have been introduced to baijiu and have fallen in love with
it. They’re helping to convert neophytes by using it in craft
cocktails from San Francisco to Sydney, bringing baijiu to
cultures around the world.
“If you want to say it correctly, say ‘Bye Joe,’” advises
Charles Lanthier, a Frenchman who fell so hard for the
spirit while working in China that he went on to start his
own brand. HKB, short for Hong Kong Baijiu, is available
in the U. S., the U.K., France, Italy and Australia, and will
launch in Singapore and Hong Kong by the end of the year.
“Did you smell it as soon as you walked in here?”
Lanthier asks from his perch on a bar stool in one of the
hip Brooklyn bars now serving baijiu. “It has this fruity,
funky aroma that just fills the room.”
The origins of baijiu are murky at best, but it is thought
to be at least 600 years old and likely a millennium older.
There is no official formula for producing it; family recipes
are passed down from generation to generation. It’s most
dating from the