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Baiju, A Beastly Beverage That Peels Paint

April 25, 2019

The author first went to Russia in the early nineties to be exposed to copious quantities of vodka. That timeframe morphed into a commingled Russia/Mongolia era of vodka-fueled fumes and then an even longer period in China with a more deadly beverage. There is a reason the Russians call vodka the "spirited water" distilled by alchemists which derived from the Russian word "voda" or water. One would think the Chinese baiju equivalent term would be kerosene though it is called the white liquor. Baiju is deeply integrated into Chinese customs and dining. One begins each drink with a toast followed by the shout "ganbei" meaning empty the glass and then showing each other your glass so that there is no chance of cheating. Baiju drinking instructions are slowly move the liquid around the mouth before reaching the throat. On the other hand, why prolong the pain and anguish-just toss it down or try to empty it on the floor.

Baiju is a clear liquid usually distilled from fermented sorghum though other grains such as rice, wheat, barley or millet may be used throughout China. The making of baiju looks a bit primitive though we have to recall winemakers crushed their grapes with their feet many years ago.

Baiju is then aged in large ceramic urns which bear a remarkable similarity to the burial urns of ancient cultures. However, they are organized in a manner resembling the militaristic structure of China.

The price of Maotai depends on the alcohol content and the year of production. Prices start at $150 per bottle. A higher alcohol 500 milliliter bottle of 53 percent alcohol would cost $300 while a vintage 80-year old one could sell for as high as $3,500. We are talking vintage Bordeaux prices for something a Frenchman would say was undrinkable. An image of a bottle of Maotai, a premium brand of baiju is shown below in case your Chinese host pulls it out at a banquet.

Gabriel Wildau recently wrote an article in the Financial Times (FT) regarding a luncheon interview with Gao Xiaosong, shown below. The creative Gao is leading the Alibaba charge on Hollywood to capture some of the market for China's films. He hosted the luncheon in his Beijing apartment. Gao offered Gabriel a choice of wine, beer or Maotai. Gabriel said she hesitated as she recalled rueful baiju experiences in the past but decided that the baiju choice could well improve her interview. As all FT interviews detail the luncheon meals and beverages, we know they drank 10 glasses of Maotai. I hope she recorded the interview or made good notes throughout lunch.

In the past, the author was delighted when Chinese Great Wall white wine was introduced and particularly when wealthy Chinese wanted to show off their vintage Bordeaux collections. Such developments precluded the baiju "ganbei" bottoms up shouts and led to a more functional morning the next day. These other beverage trends have impacted the rate of growth of baiju sales in China. Accordingly, Chinese baiju makers have sought to expand their sales efforts abroad. Incidentally, the level of baiju sales during the Chinese New Year serves as a barometer of the strength of the Chinese economy. 

Chinese food is fantastic though the author would prefer most any other beverage at a Chinese feast than the white liquor shown above. Somehow, it would seem that most westerners would share that opinion. Ford Motors gave it a go with the Edsel which might be an appropriate name for a western baiju campaign.

Grab one of these hand-beaded velvet mini pouches
by Indian designer Olivia Dar.
At just 5.5 inches wide, these pouches are just the
"right size" for your essentials and can go anywhere
you need it to go with absolute style!

Red with Gold Heart
Silver with Red Hand with Heart
Silver Blue with Emerald Eye
Black with Gold Eye
Light Pink with Rose Heart
Mint with Coral Eye

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