If you are new to Baijiu here is a bit more information to get you started on the road to discovering this most remarkable of drinks!
Baijiu literally means "clear spirit" in Chinese and is a hugely diverse category. Imagine all the clear spirits you can think of from Europe! There are many with varying ingredients, flavour profiles and strengths. Baijiu is similar in China. There are thousands of producers using lots of varying methods to produce their clear spirit.
However, there are certain revered forms of Baijiu which use specific fermentation methods to develop the base which is then distilled. These baijiu carry some amazing complexity and are often full of the flavours and aromas of ripe fruit and pear drops and bursting with complex undertones. It is also the case that they are often very high in alcoholic content and extremely strong.
The drinking of Baijiu in China is surrounded by ritual and pretty specific. However it is not as unusual to westerners as you may have been lead to believe. Baijiu is a celebration drink and its culture is tied to the Chinese banquet style of eating. Diners will take small cups of baijiu and drain them in one to the collective cheer of "gambei" or "drain the cup". It is seen as being an entirely Chinese experience.
However, the drinking of small shots of clear spirit with food is not unknown across the west either. Think about the meze culture of Greece with ouzo and raki for starters. The Baijiu Society have spent hundreds of nights partaking in this ritual event in China. However, there is a Baijiu experience beyond this! Just as vodka and tequila can be taken in this way, with the right blending and application they have bridged across in to a more mainstream drinking culture. The right approach to see Baijiu do just the same but with even more stunning results.
There are many variations and they are categorised in China depending on their aroma and flavour. Baijiu can be extremely strong and fiery or subtle and mellow. Often baijiu carries flavours that for westerners are unusual and they can even be described as savoury. Soy sauce aromas are often noted. In the main western drinkers find very traditional Chinese baijiu a challenge. However what we have done is taken the core elements of the most amazing Chinese Baijiu that we fell in love with and based our spirits and our infusion on them.
Our Baijiu emphasise the rich fruitiness and sweetness that is often found in what are known as strong aroma Baijiu. We have then spent hundreds of hours refining the blends to bring a rounded finish and a smoothness which is not always typical. This we find makes it even more amazing for first time drinkers. They get a full and true baijiu experience but in a way they can handle and grow to love quickly!
We drink it in so many ways! The softer nature of our baijiu means that it is easy and amazing to take in a shot in the time honoured way! We really love frozen shots, and The Spirit of Life infused with peach is truly incredible after sitting in the freezer for 24 hours! However, we have always paid great attention during blending to ensure that we make a baijiu which is perfect for mixing too! Not all Chinese baijiu mix well.
We have pitched our spirits at 40% ABV to fully balance the alcohol hit and because at this level we find the finest blend with tonic. Gin has taken the world by storm built the truth is that our baijiu is far more interesting, far more memorable and brings way more character to tonic than any gin we have tasted! A well made B&T is a true drinkers experience and getting the texture of our spirits right to really work in this simplest of forms was crucial. We really did succeed!
Like most distilled spririts we start with a low alcohol fermented base. Whiskey is exactly the same! However in order to develop the very unique flavours of baijiu we have to ferment in a very different way. We studied lots of methods which are used in China and developed our own version.
We use a dry grain which we steam open. We then use our very own yeast culture and start the fermentation almost dry. This is quite unlike normal beer fermentation as we are actually extracting sugar and fermenting at the same time and it all happens for way longer and at a much warmer temperature than we use for beer. The result is a liquid which we then press out of the mash and is literally saturated with compounds called esters! Esters are a by-product of fermentation under certain conditions and they are responsible for the amazing intense fruit and ripe pear flavours and aromas that are so typical of so many baijius and are front and centre in ours. The liquid goes off for distillation, blending and infusing and the used grain gets pressed again and dried and can be used as a starter for future fermentations.
The Chinese call this Qi and some are hundreds of years old! Once our spirit is distilled, blended and infused we let it sit in maturation tanks for a while and then bottle it. This year will see us launch our first ever barrel aged and matured baijiu as well as an amazing tea infused range.