What is Baijiu?

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by Raul Faria

Baijiu, meaning white liquor and pronounced “bye-joe” is coincidently the name of a Houston based company that is working hard to introduce the number 1 selling spirit in the world to the US. You read that right. Number 1. Outselling every spirit category on the planet. Vodka? Nope. Rum? Pfft, not even close. Whiskey? Negative. Baijiu is the undisputed champion of the spirits war and it seems as though now it’s got its eyes on the Western market.

I was introduced to this spirit by a friend of mine who travels to China for business often and  he said “This is what people are drinking over there.” He produced a beautiful bottle with really cool artwork and Chinese characters on it, Wuliangye it said. I opened it right away… and it was most definitely not love at first sight BUT I will tell you this, I freaking love the stuff now. LOVE IT. My first experience with Byejoe was a hit right away. Baijiu in general is perfect for adding to and playing off of tropical and stone fruit flavors, beer cocktails, and to pair with beers as a boiler maker. Byejoe makes mixing that much easier due to its filtration and balanced flavor profile.

So what exactly is Baijiu? Well it is a spirit distilled primarily from sorghum but often backed up with a mash bill of other grains like rice, wheat and corn. It is typically aged in clay pot containers stored in cool temperatures or sometimes in pits depending on the region. Regionality also plays a big role in the flavor profile as well. There are five different aroma types in Baijiu. From the Strong Aroma type that has very potent yeast strains and bacteria that yield strong flavors of both ripe tropical and stone fruits to the other side of the spectrum, Sauce Aroma, that is softer and milder with subtle savory notes. These and the other aroma types, Mild or Light Aroma, Rice Aroma and Other Aroma are often attributed to specific regions in China. Traditionally baijiu was distilled in pot stills, today many are produced with a sort of pot still steamer hybrid which help retain the potent flavors throughout distillation without coming off as harsh as the elder versions.

In my tasting impressions below I’ve featured two baijiu from the Sichuan region that utilize yeast strains with strong stone fruit aromatics. The yeast combined with the sorghum, mixed saccharification (starch to sugar conversion) and fermentation, and unique pot still/steamer used in the distillation produce a fun, funky flavor like no other. Baijiu and its regional variations began in China around the 9th-12th century and the Chinese have a long history of fermenting beverages all the way back to 7000 bc. In short, the Chinese know their booze and knew for a lot longer than anyone else.

In China, baijiu is a drink of both sophistication and tradition consumed by both the blue collar and the suit and tie guys alike. Prices range from around $15 to the tens of thousands, giving the distilled grapes from France a run for their yuan. So much diversity in this spirit category in terms of flavor and regionality, it truly is an amazing spirit that is so much of an unknown quantity on our side of the pond.

I spoke with the folks at Byejoe about the spirit and why they think the time is right for Baijiu in the states.

How would you describe baijiu?

Baijiu is the #1 most consumed spirit on the planet, with over 1 billion cases consumed annually, 99% in China. For reference, baijiu’s 1 billion cases is more than the world’s consumption of vodka, Tequila, rum, whiskey etc combined. It’s the most popular spirit in the world that you haven’t tasted yet.

How is baijiu enjoyed in China? Is it a straight? Served chilled? Sipped? Served with beer?

Baijiu in China is consumed straight at room temperature always with meals, during celebratory banquets, at the close of business deals at weddings and other happy events.

Where does the distinct flavor of baijiu come from? The yeast, The Grains? The aging or all of the above?

All of the above.

What seperates Byejoe from baijiu overseas?

Byejoe is the original 100% Chinese spirit, imported in small batches to America, and filtered using patented ultrasonic technology to create ultra-premium quality. We focused on making Byejoe something that both Chinese and Westerners would enjoy. We also totally revamped the packaging from its original, commissioning a world-renowned bottle designer to reinvent the ancient spirit for sophisticated consumers. The tall, sleek, transparent bottle alludes to ultra-modern Shanghai, which boasts the tallest skyscrapers, fastest bullet trains and billion dollar IPOs. Our design won the coveted Double Gold medal for packaging design, among other awards, at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2013.

Why baijiu and why now?

A bar is like a mini U.N., with every country and every culture having its representative. Tequila from Mexico, vodka from Russia, whisky from Scotland, rum from the Caribbean, sake from Japan…but where is baijiu? Where is the spirit of China? We made it our company’s mission to introduce the oldest and most popular spirit from the East to the West.

What are the different products in the Byejoe line?

So far we’ve launched two products: Byejoe Red amd Byejoe Dragon Fire. Red is the original Chinese spirit distilled from 100% red sorghum, a high protein super grain that is naturally high in antioxidants and naturally gluten free. Its also low calorie, with only 65 calories per ounce. Byejoe Dragon Fire is the first baijiu in the world to infuse Asian fusion flavors of dragon fruit, lychee and hot chilies.

Most importantly, where can our readers pick up a bottle of Byejoe?

Byejoe is currently distributed in California, Texas, Florida, New York, and New Jersey. We will be launching soon in Nevada and the rest of the 50 states! Your readers can visit our website to purchase online and find retail locations in their neighborhood.

Below are my impressions of Byejoe Red, Byejoe Dragon Fire, Wuliangye and Mianzhu Daqu-

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Byejoe Red– made from 100% red sorghum. 40% abv

Aroma– Notes of ripe tropical fruits like starfruit and overripe pineapple and grainy aromas like fresh baked pumpernickel.

Taste– Notes of drier tropical fruits like starfruit and dragonfruit with lush juicy pear.

Finish– Finishes tannic like eating fresh green grapes.

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Byejoe Dragon Fire– Byejoe that has been infused with lychee, dragonfruit and spicy pepper. 35% abv.

Aroma-Big Lychee, banana and ripe pear with faint savory black peppercorn notes.

Taste– Silky texture with lush, juicy lychee right up front and peppery heat mid palate.

Finish– Finishes long with juicy lychee and peppery heat.

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Wuliangye “New Wuliangye Liqour”– Made from sorghum, wheat and corn. 52% abv.

Aroma– Strong over ripe and big, pungent, sweet stone fruit aromas of peaches and apricots.

Taste– Sweet stone fruit flavors with notes of banana and bubblegum plus from faint pineapple.

Finish– Alcohol heat with lingering banana and bubblegum.

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Mianzhu Daqu “Time Honored Brand”– Made from sorghum, rice, glutinous rice, wheat and corn. 52% abv.

Aroma– Big bubblegum, ripe banana and pineapple with faint notes of doughy rye bread.

Taste– Spicy rye like grains balanced with notes of bubblegum and pineapple.

Finish– Finishes with spicy rye notes and lingering banana.

Be sure to visit byejoe.com for all the information about Byejoe Red and Byejoe Dragon Fire plus find out where to pick yourself up a bottle or where the next Byejoe event will be!
If you want to know more about baijiu as a spirit category definitely check out the amazing blog “300 shots of greatness” or the book “Baijiu: the essential guide to Chinese spirits” by Derek Sandhaus.
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