commonly made from rice, millet, wheat, barley,
corn, sorghum or a combination thereof. The
grains are fermented in underground pits
using a starter culture called qu that comes in
brick-shaped slabs (another secret recipe), and
are then aged in ceramic urns for any where
from months to years.
For generations in China, the spirit was
served neat in tiny cups. Typically 50 proof or
higher, it’s no easy sipper. It was most often
taken in celebration—weddings, parties or to
close a business deal—but also might be poured
for a quiet dinner at home. Bottles can range
from less than 10 yuan to thousands, depending
on the brand. And according to tradition, a
bottle must never be left unfinished.
Many young Chinese think of their grandfather or a favourite uncle when they think
of baijiu. But mixologists in chic cocktail
lounges within China, including the Opus Bar
at Four Seasons Hotel Beijing, are transforming
perceptions of the spirit. Mixing baijiu into
cocktails, they’ve found, makes it more
approachable and, perhaps, more fun.
At Lumos in New York City, the first baijiu
bar in the Western world, it may be infused
with dried fruits and fresh herbs, or stirred into
a variation of a Manhattan. Co-owner Orson
Salicetti wanted to present this quintessentially
Eastern drink in a Western way. Since opening
Lumos over a year ago, he has pressed brands
to rethink their approach to the international
market. They’re listening, he says. Some are
redesigning their packaging to include English
and bottling at a lower proof than traditional
“You’re going to start seeing more baijius
made for the Western consumer,” Salicetti
predicts. “The old brands were not open to the
international market. They didn’t need to be.
In China, distilleries can have more than 1,000
years of history. So they were like, ‘ We do things
the traditional way and that’s that.’ Now, they
see the potential.”
Working with baijiu behind the bar offers
opportunities—flavours that can’t be created
using any other spirit—but also challenges.
Aromas of soy sauce, fermented bean paste,
mushrooms and blue cheese are not what
uninitiated noses and palates expect from a
clear spirit. But the possibilities baijiu provides
for those who like to taste and learn are nearly
limitless. There are lighter, brighter baijius that
are floral or fruity. Others are candied or sweet.
Each style is associated with a specific region in
China, and is named for its aromatic profile, so a
baijiu might be categorized as “light aroma” or
“strong aroma,” “rice aroma” or “sauce aroma.”
This ancient spirit is richly layered, full
of mystique and ripe for wider discovery, or
rediscovery. Seek a little guidance—whether
in baijiu’s home country or elsewhere, in a
traditional serving or a creative cocktail—
and start sipping.
Chantal Martineau, a Montreal native now based in
New York, is the author of How the Gringos Stole Tequila
and a forthcoming book about mescal.
THREE TO TRY
At Four Seasons
Hotel Beijing, Opus
Bar mixologist John
these Chinese baijius:
• The sorghum-based
Moutai, produced by
• Wuliangye, a
• The potent ( 112
proof ) erguotou;
popular brands are
Red Star and
Red Monkey at Lumos, New York
Named for the Year of the Monkey,
it’s made with peach-blossom
bitters, Amaro Montenegro, baijiu
and pomelo juice, since the fruit
symbolises prosperity in Chinese
culture. The colour—red—is for luck.
Enter the Dragon at Red Lantern,
With baijiu, Bacardi Black and
Four Roses bourbon, plus spiced
demerara syrup, pimento bitters
and citrus bitters, this drink packs
a punch. And it’s served on tap.
My Fair Lady at Lot. 1, Sydney
Made with passion fruit, rosemary
shrub, fresh pineapple juice, baijiu
and Angostura bitters, it comes
garnished with a dehydrated
pineapple disc, passion fruit husk,
pair of violets and rosemary sprig—
an exotic sip with a spicy kick.
ChinChin at Freni e Frizioni, Rome
Incorporating Père Labat rhum
agricole from Guadeloupe with
baijiu, orgeat and pimento, this tiki-style drink has a lot going on (and it
all works): tart citrus, candied fruit
and a sweet nuttiness on the finish.
Spring Punch at Opium, London
Bursting with aromatics from
the baijiu, as well as fresh lychee,
raspberry and lemongrass, this
sophisticated sipper gets lengthened with a Champagne top for
a true East-meets-West experience.
Red Peking at Four Seasons
A pretty pink cocktail made with
baijiu, Grand Marnier, pomegranate,
lemon juice, egg white and grenadine is the perfect welcome drink.
It’s sweet, tart and totally chic.
A cocktail provides an excellent introduction to baijiu—or a fresh twist
on tradition for those who already know the spirit. Taste these innovative
concoctions around the world, made with HKB and other brands:
Learn more about
Four Seasons properties in
China at fourseasons.com/