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October 31, 2014
Baijiu translates to ‘white alcohol’ – a suitably subtle introduction to a spirit we’ve never, previously, had any knowledge of. With this in mind, it’s not hard to imagine the intrigue surrounding its preview tasting at SeeWoo’s See Sushi this October. It is, in fact, a traditional Chinese spirit that has not previously breached western shores – a shame as it is a unique drink with much more complexity than many English bar stalwarts. It is brewed using fermented grains, which may seem a little off-putting to the less adventurous, but consider the deliciousness of Kimchi – also fermented – or ground-breaking restaurants like Noma, which ferments and ages many of its products.
The version we tasted is called Shui Jing Fang and was introduced to the United Kingdom in 2012. It comes from the Shui Jing Distillery in Chengdu – named the world’s oldest distillery in 2001 – which has been creating Baijiu since 1408. Chengdu proved the perfect place to brew it; it has a temperate climate, plenty of rainfall and a lush, mountainous landscape – all factors conducive with a delicate, smoky taste. It’s a 52% proof alcohol, but when we take a shot, it doesn’t burn. The aftertaste is a little like roasted rice tea, which makes me think it’ll match nicely with other subtle flavours.
The first cocktail that has been created is the Baijiu Baby, and this is what we are served. It is a sweet, juice-based cocktail with slices of lime and orange – the type of thing you could drink four or five of without noticing. The shots that ensue come in a traditionally small glass; the Chinese drink from these on special occasions, clinking them together as a type of toast. It does complement Asian cuisine well – we’re offered sushi, the gentle, fresh taste of which works to enhance but not overpower the drink.
With such a unique flavour, we have no doubt the spirit will give rise to all manner of experimental creations. The second annual Baijiu Cocktail Week will begin in February 2015, and will coincide with the Chinese New Year. By that time, we are sure, Baijiu will be a spirit on the lips of every discerning cocktail drinker.