Chinese Liquors

4 interesting alcohols for the Chinese New Year

 


As we near the Chinese New Year, taking place this year on January 23, it is time to fill our kitchen and liquor cabinets and prepare for the great celebration. Though a few of these purchases might be a bit out of the ordinary for some, cultural holidays like this provide a great opportunity and excuse to expand our palates and learn new culinary ways.

Though this holiday focuses more on family time and food, a basic understanding of popular Chinese alcohols can be a fun and different way to honor the yearly tradition.

Photo courtesy FotoosVanRobin via Flickr/CC
Whether your are celebrating in a city nearby or simply having a dim sum-themed evening in, these traditional beverages will provide the perfect pairing. Though they might be a bit more difficult to find in some areas than others, you can generally find them in Asian grocery stores, depending on your region and the liquor laws in place there.

Lychee Wine


The lychee wine, with its golden color, is made of 100% lychee fruit, making it a very sweet and full-bodied dessert wine. This treat is best served cold or on the rocks with food.

Plum Wine


Though this is traditionally a Japanese drink, it is also popular throughout China. Green plums are steeped in a clear liquor, infusing their sweet flavor into the alcohol.

Baijiu


This "white liquor" is generally about 80 to 120 proof, meaning about 40-60% ABV. Made from glutinous rice or wheat grains, the alcohol is typically served either warm or at room temperature and had with food rather than on its own.

Huangjiu


This liquor, unlike many others, is not distilled and typically has under 20% ABV. There are a variety of these wines, ranging from dry to extra sweet and coming from a variety of production methods. Some of the most popular types include Mijiu (similar to sake) and Fujian (made from glutinous rice).

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Comments

  • Snooth User: sweedld
    160650 3

    With respect to Chinese Baiju, most are sorghum based distlillates with addition of red rice yeast cultures and strange long fermentation practices. I would strongly reccomend a Maotai with light or rice fragrance rather than the most peculiar sauce fragrance Baiju. Sauce fragrance refers to barnyard odors of ammonia and urine and is extremely unpleasant to most western people. The hangover of this class of Chinese whiskey is not to believe and they are NOT cheap! You are warned!

    Jan 17, 2012 at 1:30 PM


  • Snooth User: aag99
    495392 10

    had baiju in Urumqi. 3 years ago. tastes and smells like vomit, Barnyard hell yes bad barnyard, Had "goodstuff" but still vomit-like fragrance and taste.
    sorry no fan.tried. but noo
    no
    no.

    Jan 17, 2012 at 4:34 PM


  • you could say [and many do] that an islay single malt tastes like a mouthful of cigarette butts.

    baijiu is a complex drink with many varieties and a long history. keep an open mind and acquire the taste, the same way you acquired a palate for the notes of peat, seawater, iodine, and saddle leather in scotch, none of which are things that most people would consider pleasant.

    Jan 17, 2012 at 5:22 PM


  • Snooth User: aag99
    495392 10

    but the taste& smell of vomit, is sooo remarkable as to create an immediate impression of bad things. I'm interested do you taste the sour stomach acid in baiju? Is it there on your tongue? I love single malt isle scotch the peatier the better, but vomit notes are just too much for my palate to get used to. And I did attempt to like it.

    Jan 17, 2012 at 10:10 PM


  • I have to agree, that Baijiu is just horrible - the worst I have ever tried!
    It is less the aromas, than the highly volatile character, which reminds on rocket fuel. Worse than moonshine...

    Even Chinese who can afford it, will drink something imported and no more Baijiu! The only spirit which is as horrible as Baijiu, is Cashew Fanny from India [but don't make a mistake - Indian rum can be very good and the Amrut whisky distillery has also its great accolades!].

    Jan 20, 2012 at 11:59 AM


  • Snooth User: aag99
    495392 10

    wow as bad as baiju, I will make a note to never attempt this liquor, sounds bad anyway, cashew fanny. thanks for the heads up. Maybe there should be a new topic booze we love to hate and why.

    Jan 20, 2012 at 1:09 PM


  • Yeah - this is a great idea.
    Just to make it clear -if you talk about Chinese white spirit it is not that much the taste, which is wrong [well it is] - it is the impression that you are drinking something really bad; which is intended as liquid for machines, robots or as pesticide. Even as total novice, you understand, that it is produced wrong!
    I imagine, that grappa was a little bit like this, before it became an international spirit - but for some regional rough spirits I definitely have hope [Sri Lankan Arrack somebody?]. For Baijiu I had this hope as well... before I tried it.
    You don't even have to tried it - if you keep the bottle open, your room smells as you would have forgot to close a big canister of solvent,

    It is that bad!

    Jan 20, 2012 at 6:09 PM


  • Personally I've been tasting baijius for three years now, and there is definitely complexity, subtlety and interest to be had there - but I agree that lots are difficult to approach the first time. I've had some great and some scary - but then that goes for grappa, mescal, whisky etc - an acquired taste that's for sure.
    They can work well with umami flavours in cocktails as a starting point though - sour plum and citrus too.

    Jan 25, 2012 at 1:44 AM


  • I cannot agree - it is not the taste which puts you off baijius - it is the whole substance. I also can't see any subtlety in it...
    The aromas of Islay whisky and mescal and even grappa can be confusing and controversial - however the overall quality of the spirit is adequate [or better].

    This cannot be said of Baijiu.

    Jan 25, 2012 at 9:15 AM


  • we'll agree to disagree then!
    Watered down to a standard a.b.v of 40%, there are lots of subtleties I find. Sweetness, as well as the fusil oils at one end and the esters at the other - in the same way you'd get them with a grappa or mescal. I know details of some of the distilleries (including that owned by Diageo - the distillery also produces other spirits for them), and the overall quality of the spirit is no different.

    Indeed the import of tequila and mescal is largely blocked in China because they are not distilled to a 'pure' enough level to eliminate supposedly dangerous impurities (methanol specifically mentioned) - although there is more to this story.

    Having said that, I'd sit down with a mescal (if I could get it) or Islay whisky at the end of the day over a baijiu...

    Jan 25, 2012 at 10:01 AM


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