The most consumed liquor in the world is Chinese and you have never heard of it (but you will soon taste it)


In Chinese, baijiu Literally it means "white alcohol", although the word rather designates transparent alcohol: the one that comes from a distillate, not a fermented one. The denomination encompasses various types of spirits made from cereals, mainly rice and sorghum, but also millet or soy, depending on the different production areas.

In the West the baijiu It is hardly known, but it is by far the most consumed liquor in the world. In China, you drink three times more baijiu than beer and 15 times more than wine. Taking this into account, and given the immense population of China, it no longer seems so rare that 10 billion liters of baijiu, more than double the world production of vodka, which is the second most drunk distillate in the world.

The Kweichow Moutai firm, which produces one of the baijius most reputed - made from sorghum - it is the largest distillery in the world. In 2017 it had a market capitalization of $ 71.5 billion, surpassing the western spirits giant Diageo. However, it hardly exports its product: 95% of sales are made in China. What if they manage to make the baijiu in the West?

How does an article published in The Economist, Kweichow Moutai has been trying to export its liquor since the early 20th century.

In 1915, a group of Chinese officials brought the liquor to an international expo in San Francisco. The American public mocked the delegation's ceramic jars, the traditional container in which the drink is taken. Out of fear of disaster, or perhaps simply by accident, a Chinese delegate threw one of the glasses on the ground, releasing the aroma of the liquor. The smell and commotion attracted the judges, who ultimately awarded the drink a prize.

The medal won in the contest is proudly displayed at the distillery's headquarters, located in Renhuai city - Guizhou province, southwest China - but, since then, the company has not done much to sell its product in the West. Until now.

The 'baijiu' is macerated in large clay jars.

Baijiu assaulting the West

As it explains The Economist, in recent years both Kweichow Moutai and other relevant producers of baijiu they have redoubled their efforts to introduce liquor to the West. After all, there are important precedents. Vodka did not become popular in the United States and Europe until the end of World War II - Stolichnaya triumphed in the middle of the Cold War on the other side of the Iron Curtain - and tequila, which is today the undisputed leader in terms of shots, did not start. to become popular outside of Mexico until the 70s of the last century.

The reality is that to date the producers of baijiu they had had more than enough to satisfy domestic demand. Between 2003 and 2013, the consumption of liquor tripled, hand in hand with the increase in the purchasing power of Chinese citizens. But distilleries are not going through their prime today.

Although there are marks of baijiu that can be bought for four dollars, there are others that can cost hundreds or thousands of euros. Give away good bottles of baijiu it has long been a subtle way of bribing officials and party members. But when Xi Jinping, the current Chinese president, took power in 2012, he was determined to nip corruption in the bud. Sales of baijiu they fell immediately.

The distilleries have begun to put the batteries to sell more the liquor in bars and restaurants, promote it among young people and women, and make versions more adapted to the current consumer, but the option of export also seems a good way out.

The 'baijiu' is served in ceramic cups, and is drunk in a gulp.

The new Jägermaister?

Although the big distilleries are very serious about the western market, introducing baijiu is a challenge.

To begin with, we are not talking about a single drink. In China it is called baijiu to any traditional distillate. Normally they have high alcoholic graduations, often above 50º, but there their resemblance ends.

The best are sweet, aromatic, and somewhat reminiscent of vodka. The worst have flavors reminiscent of licorice, mold, or rotten fruit. Unlike most Western cereal-based liqueurs, the baijiu It is made with solid fermented grains, which can produce organoleptic characteristics that are unpleasant here.

But there is a characteristic of liquor that can succeed in the West. The Chinese always consume the drink at celebrations or business lunches as a social lubricant, with the primary objective of getting drunk: it is never sipped, always by gulp, in infinite toasts that leave the staff waving.

It tastes like lightning and gets very drunk It could be him baijiu the next Jägermaister?

Images | HunagnTwuai / Morgan / Jirka Matousek

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