The word “baijiu” is unfamiliar to many consumers in the US and Europe, but in fact baijiu (pronounced “buy-joe”), a Chinese spirit made from fermented sorghum grain, is the best-selling alcoholic beverage in the world – and a top trending beverage for 2019. Baijiu has recently seen a strong increase in interest in the UK market.
Bajiiu has a rich history with over 600 years of heritage, according to The Evening Standard. It is in a family of spirits that has a very strong alcohol content. For many years, western markets have been less likely to feature and distribute baijiu in bars, restaurants and markets. A big reason for this is the liquor’s very distinct and somewhat odd taste. Marco Matesi, who is the barkeeper of the Mayfair outpost in London called Flemings, was quoted in the Evening Standard as saying that “It’s the weirdest product — in a good way…There’s no reference point to such extremity in Western spirits, which is why it deserves its own page on my menu.”
One popular cocktail he serves at this bar that incorporates baijiu is what he calls, “Year of the Rooster” which combines baijiiu and London gin with sage, jasmine and cherry nuances.
Although the UK was a fairly late adopter of baijiu, more UK consumers are starting to get accustomed to the drink’s unusual flavor profile and intense alcohol content. Creative new cocktails incorporating baijiu are appearing on more menus in the UK and within meticulously crafted cocktails and the liquor is in high demand by mixologists in the UK as well as their discerning patrons that range anywhere from high-end five-star London hotels to a specialized baijiu bar that was built in Liverpool. Aside from the cocktails people are also consuming the libation in a shot, however it is advisable to sip the drink rather than shoot it.
Baijiu is a powerful libation with high alcohol content – it often contains over 50 percent alcohol and has a distinctive taste that is often described as intensely savory. It has a sorghum base although it also contains wheat, corn and rice. It is fermented inside in-ground pits and then the alcohol is steam-distilled several times and aged in large terra cotta vessels. The process is completed by being blended, which is a very rigorous and laborious process.
Baijiu is often classified by various aromas such as light, rice, sauce and strong. To really savor and appreciate the baiijiu you are drinking, one needs to look at the color, taste and aroma, which will then determine the type. A good baiijiu ideally is bright, clear and shiny, lacking any suspended particles. It is best served at room temperature in small cups.
Given that baijiu is already the top-selling spirit in the world, it is now making an aggressive expansion to markets beyond China and Asia. As more consumers are expanding their palates in more adventurous, daring directions (as part of the “Adventurous Consumer” top trend), look for this Chinese influence on cocktail culture to be a top beverage trend in 2019.