The essential guide to baijiu

Updated: 2014-04-08 11:26

By Sun Ye (China Daily)

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The essential guide to baijiu

US author Derek Sandhaus spent three years to become a fan of baijiu after his first sip of the strong liquor. Provided to China Daily

Ganbei! Salud! Cheers! However you drink, chances are China's infamous white liquor will leave you flat on your back after a few shots. Sun Ye chats to an unlikely baijiu aficionado and author, who discovered the more you drink, the better it gets.

If you think of baijiu, the typical Chinese spirit, as burning your throat, fouling your nostrils and offending your taste buds, read on, for your impression is a grave injustice to the country's national drink that should soon be dispelled.

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At least, that is according to Derek Sandhaus from the United States, whose newly published book Baijiu: The Essential Guide to Chinese Spirits by Penguin China is written to turn baijiu critics into fans.

The 31-year-old spent three years trying to understand the hard liquor. He began his research as a baijiu novice, tasting it "just to see how horrible it is", but the more he drank the more curious he became.

Indeed, his first sip was unpleasant - "strong and gross" was his impression - so bad that he almost decided "never to drink it again".

"A lot of people expect it to be bad because it smells strange," he says.

Fortunately, he heard the theory that "after 300 shots of baijiu you'll appreciate it" and decided to put the saying to the test.

Starting as a skeptic, he kept a blog of his adventures with the alcohol. When the count reached 60 shots, the epiphany came. He had sampled the high-quality Luzhou Laojiao, sharp yet smooth, with a strong aroma and native to the Southwestern Sichuan province, China's biggest baijiu producing area.

"I don't think it was drinking a certain amount of baijiu that made me like it," he says. "But I've found one I feel connected to."

So he became a convert after drinking one-fifth of the proposed 300 shots, having tried fewer than 10 different kinds of baijiu.

He has since visited major baijiu regions around the country to study the spirit central to the Chinese way of life - white spirit production will reach 17.05 billion liters in 2016 according to Frost & Sullivan, a US-based market consultancy. Enough baijiu to fill the West Lake in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province.

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