Jiang Xiaobai and the Spirit of Youth

For some foreigners, there is a misconception about baijiu. Just the word summons the image of crusty old Chinese men chain smoking cigarettes and yelling at each other while drinking and playing either cards or mahjong.  Some of these geezers may or may not sport epic comb-overs. This, of course, is absolutely wrong to levels of absurdity. A more common perception is that of the “Chinese business lunch,” where vast amounts of this sorgum-based grain alcohol is consumed. Well, actually, that does happen a lot. However, the simple reality is that baijiu is just a pervasive part of Chinese culture at all levels and age groups.

Take, for instance, Jiang Xiaobai 江小白. This particular Chongqing brand has had a consistent and heavy marketing strategy aimed at the younger generation. To many respects, Jiang Xiaobai has tried to take on a hip, trendy air. This is especially true with it’s S100. The company has sponsored hip-hop music festivals, street dance competitions, and street art  exhibitions. They also have a separate line of alco-pops and weakened / diluted variations. This drive to be “youthfully contemporary and cool” is evident even in the spirit’s packaging.

The text next to the young woman might be summed up as “not everything important is what you want.” However, it should be noted that this is a hasty and inexact translation on my part. My Chinese is pretty terrible. So, I’m more than likely wrong. Other bits of packaging look like this…

The packaging — in terms of quotes and images — on this 20 RMB small glass  flask changes per bottle are all decidedly emo. But enough about that. What does this taste like? Well, let me slip off one of the cardboard sleeves.

Jiang Xiaobai S100 comes in at 40% alcohol. It goes down pretty smooth and cleanly if you’re drinking it neat. Baijiu notoriously can burn your mouth, throat, and stomach, but the extent of that stems more from quality of each brand and variety. Besides, it’s not uncommon for some baijius to be be much stronger and upwards of 50%. This is not that; it’s relatively mellow.

Giving this the one ice-cube whiskey treatment — or just doing on the rocks — makes it even smoother. However, Chinese people tend to drink their grain alcohols at room temperature, and I would guess” the rocks” treatment is more of an western imposition of loving cold drinks. Quick and dirty mixtures, in my opinion, fare well here.  Sprite Zero goes down easy. So does Coke Zero. It didn’t try fruit juices because I am not a fruity sort of guy. Some people would claim that doing stuff like this is polluting a timehonored Chinese tradition when it comes to their spirits. To them, I would readily remind them that number of the larger Chinese baijiu distillers are encouraging drinkers to find ways to turn their spirits into cocktails. Jiang Xiaobai is no different on their English language website. 

All in all, Jiang Xiaobai is a very decent, cheap, and easily accessible baijiu. I wouldn’t say it’s excellent, but there are forms this particular Chinese spirit that do make you want to vomit up both your stomach and intestines. This is definitely not one of those, and I would definitely buy it again.


Two Punches from a Boxing Cat

To people outside China, Tsingtao tends to be the most well known Chinese beer export. However, that may slowly change. AB-InBev has been expanding it’s global empire to include craft beer — this would be the parent company of Budweiser. This is how, for example, a Chicago beer like Goose Island has been showing up in Chinese bars. Budweiser owns it, now. Three years ago, AB-InBev also bought up Shanghai’s Boxing Cat Brewery. In this regard, Boxing Cat may be one of the first Chinese craft beers that could get exported on a large scale.  As for me in China, I recently noticed Boxing Cat had two of their drinks for sale at Metro — a large German supermarket where many expats do their grocery shopping. Needless to say, getting into Metro is just another indication of AB-InBev’s clout. So, I decided to give both a try.

This first one is 第一血 diyixue, aka First Blood. It’s an amber lager that boasts a 4.5% alcohol level.

As amber lagers go, I found this light and relatively smooth. While there is some carbonation, it wasn’t as fizzy or gassy as some varieties of Tsingtao can be.  My first impression was that it tasted a little watery, but not in a way I would outright complain about. Would I drink another bottle or two of this sometime? Yeah, why not. Moving on…

This one is 搏击者 bojizhe, aka Contender. It’s an extra pale ale clocking in at 4.9%.

It has a small bit of dry bite with a slight bitter hint.  As extra pale ales go, this one is also a little light, and to my taste a bit watery. Again, not complaining. Some good tasting beers that are watery are actually easier to chug — if you’re into that sort of thing. My college student days are long in the rear view mirror, though. Again, this one felt a little more carbonated that Boxing Cat’s amber ale. Would I drink this again? Yes.

After drinking both of these, I was left wondering about one thing. Is this Budweiser’s version of Boxing Cat, or is these two actually representative of the Shanghai brew pub? As of this writing, I wouldn’t know. I haven’t visited Boxing Cat the last few times I was in Shanghai. However, these two have me intrigued, though. Draft beer is usually better than bottled. So, I have something new on my Shanghai to do list.

About This Blog

If you have learned to like baijiu, you have lived far too long in China, have gone local, and you should consider returning home!

There are multiple variations on this saying in many expat communities across China. I certainly believed that myself in my early years of living in Changzhou, Jiangsu province. And besides. I was born on an American base in Germany and grew up in Europe. I really don’t have a home to return to — the closest would be New Jersey.

And what is wrong with trying to go local? As a laowai 老外 — ahem, a foriegner — you never can truly go local, but that doesn’t mean trying isn’t worthwhile. In all my time growing up around the American military, I was always told that the best way to show respect to a host nation is to learn as much about its history and culture as possible. Sure, in my current case, that means learning the language as well. In my blogs about Changzhou and Jiangsu, I have tried to learn both the culture and history of my city and my region — where and what things are.

Then, late in 2019, Covid-19 corona virus hit Wuhan and spread to much of China and then beyond. Much of the country either went into lock down or had severe travel restrictions put into place. People were told to stay at home as much as possible. Bars, gyms, restaurants, and much more were shuttered. I’m not complaining, as I took it as how serious the central, provincial, and municipal governments were being in fighting the spread of Covid-19. All of a sudden, having two blogs about traveling seemed distasteful given the circumstances. Those blogs won’t permanently go away, but they are on hold until life gets back to normal.

During the early days of the epidemic, I did what a lot of people did: quietly freak out. Grocery stores were (and still are) still open, and I started to amass my own staple food supply. Beer and liquor were some of the things I kept “strategic reserves” of.   Because, let’s face it: when facing an uncertain future in profoundly weird and frightening times, a stiff drink is always a good comfort.  It was during this time that I realized the world of Chinese alcohol was a wonderfully strange and oddly beautiful place. There are traditions and stories of its own that it could tell.  That is what I wish to learn with this blog.