Every few years, a new product explodes upon the global mixology scene, and bar folks’ ears perk up. A new toy! A few years back, genever, the Dutch predecessor to today’s gin, became the darling of the industry with its unique, malty flavor. Today, China’s fascinating spirit, baijiu, is snaking its way from Asia across the world.
Baijiu is reminiscent of genever in that it is rich, powerful and unusual, at least to American palates. While vodka is touted as the most popular spirit worldwide, baijiu is more widely sold than vodka in the global market. (A billion Chinese can't be wrong, right?)
Baijiu is high-octane (ranging from 80 to well over 100 proof) and made from distilled fermented grain, mainly sorghum. The English translation of "baijiu" is "white liquor," meaning that it is typically an unaged, clear liquid. It is slowly surfacing in the US market, and I got my hands on Hong Kong Baijiu for my own at-home experimentation.
Aptly named, Hong Kong is touted as the "gateway to Asia," and HKB is the perfect steppingstone into the baijiu category. Created by a Frenchman living there, this blend of sorghum, rice, wheat and corn is more palatable to Western taste buds than some of the rougher Chinese moonshine found deep in rural areas. HKB tasting notes include wheatgrass, red fruits, crisp apple and toffee with a malty, sweet corn finish that lingers.
At first, the nose hits you like a musty sock left in the back of the closet for too long. But, upon second whiff, a complex, slightly sweet, crisp wave of intrigue tickles your curiosity. Honestly, I love it neat. Sipping smoky scotch, rye whiskey or mezcal is my speed. That said, my passion for mixology leads me to mix, enhance, contrast and play with people's taste buds. And, so, the games began …
Citrus is a no-brainer with most spirits, and baijiu is no exception. A kiss of lemon or lime punches up the fruit notes, as will agave nectar and honey. I also like to use liqueurs as modifiers because fruit, coffee, chocolate or herbal notes can be fun to contrast any base spirit.
Below are a couple of recipes I created with Chinese New Year (Feb. 8) in mind. Feel free to try them, or tinker with your own combinations. What's more fun than tinkering with the many possibilities of a new-to-you spirit? "Gung Hey Fat Choy" (or "Happy New Year") to all you little Fire Monkeys out there!
- 2 ounces baijiu
- 1½ ounces OM Dark Chocolate Sea Salt
- ½ ounce orange liqueur
- 2 dashes Bitter End Mexican Mole bitters
- 1 egg white
Dry shake (no ice) all ingredients to get the egg white frothy. Shake a second time with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with chocolate shavings on the surface of the egg white froth.
Fire Monkey Manhattan
(a twist on a classic Manhattan)
- 2 ounces baijiu
- ¾ ounce Ancho Reyes chile liqueur
- 2 dashes orange bitters
- Stir all ingredients with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garn
ish with orange twist.