A visit to China isn’t complete without tasting Baijiu. It’s considered a national drink of China. The beverage is a Chinese distilled alcohol. The clear color can easily be mistaken for water (I’ve done that mistake before). At about 80 to 120 proof, or 40-60% alcohol by volume, it burns right through and you will feel every drop it going down.
Baijiu is made from a variety of sources including wheat, oak, peas, barley, sorghum beans, and corn. Northern China does brew it differently than Southern China. The smell, at least for me, makes me want to gag. It has a familiar smell of paint thinner and rubbing alcohol and though I never tried drinking paint thinner, I’d imagine it wouldn’t taste much different from Baijiu.
It’s common to drink during family and business gatherings. Most business relationships are done in restaurants and Baijiu is almost always in the meal. Can’t hold a drink? Well, you better work on that because when you hear “gahn bay” (dry glass), it means to drink up (Same as saying Cheers). It’s considered rude to not participate in a toast group shot. Talk about peer pressure. It’s almost always taken as a group and throughout the course of a meal. The glass is then refilled started with the person who has the most money while filling yours last.
Traditionally in Chinese culture, the point of drinking is not to get drunk. Moderation is key otherwise you’ll be long gone before you can even talk business or hold a conversation with locals. It’s occasionally used to just loosen things up a bit. Baijiu is used in many festivals including the Spring Festival, Chinese New Year’s, the Lantern Festival, and the Dragon Boat Festival. It’s even been the drink to have during military victories in the past.
If you’re lucky enough, try some local home brewed Baijiu with the locals themselves. If you see a pretty bottle of Baijiu, don’t be fooled – it’ll taste just as bad as all the rest. Price ranges dramatically while you could pay 10 cents for a bottle in one place, it may cost thousands per bottle for a different quality.
More Baijiu information on Wikipedia with references
Have you tried Baijiu? What did you think of the taste?