Category Archives: baijiu

A Cheap Gift Box of Baijiu

The liquor aisles of Chinese supermarkets usually splits into two categories: simple bottles and gift boxes. This is because giving gifts is a huge part of the culture here. So, why give somebody a bottle of booze when you can give that person that bottle in fancy packaging? So, the above is a gift pack of Yanghe’s 38% ABV daqujiu 大曲酒. More on what this is will come later. I bought this for 10 RMB. At the current exchange rate, that’s $1.44 retail. However, I think I bought this off of a discount shelf, to be honest. The real price might be higher. Honestly, not by much.

The reverse of the package looks like this.  This makes the product look bilingual, and it is. The promotional copy on the not-seen sides of the box are in both English and Chinese. For a 10 RMB cheap drink, that may seem weird. However, Yanghe is one of the larger baijiu distillers in China, and they do export. So, what’s inside the box?

A fancy-shaped bottle. This is the reverse side with a bas relief-like version of the label’s topless woman. Gift box versions of Chinese booze can sometimes get highly extravagant. Regular versions of this sort of thing look like this.

Boring!

Okay, so what does this taste like?

Admittedly, baijiu really is an acquired taste for many foreigners in China. One also has realize that this a category of Chinese spirits and not a singular thing. Yanghe predominately ferments a sorghum-based mash of grains and peas. Here is where the qu 曲 in “da qu” comes in. The character 曲 refers the active cultures used to start the fermentation process.  There are many different types of qu 曲 used to make baijiu. Arguably, daqu 大曲 and erqu 二曲 are not the same fermenting cultures. This can greatly effect the resulting flavor.

Out of all the types of Baijiu there are to be had daqujiu is not one of my favorites, but it’s also not intolerable. When it comes to Yanghe’s entry into this category, there are actually three alcohol by volume versions you can try. This gift box contained the 38% variety — which is the weakest. Once the ABV starts going up, the more it becomes undrinkable for me. As you can see in the above picture, this is something I absolutely can’t drink neat. This stuff actually burns when it hits your stomach, but that quickly fades. For me, this stuff has to be on the rocks, and if I can add some water to hasten dilution, I will. This time around, I didn’t try any mixers.

So, would this be something I’d recommend to the curious at heart wondering what the world of Chinese grain alcohol is about? No. Would I buy this gift box and give it to a Chinese friend? Absolutely not. Is it a passable drink? Well, okay, but only if you know baijiu. I have had worse.

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.