Our mission is to share our amazing experiences of China and Chinese Baijiu in a contemporary drink. Our own interpretation of Baijiu, full of the unmistakeable flavour and character of the original, blended for a new adventure.
Baijiu is the oldest known spirit on earth. It dates back thousands of years and some of the current producers can trace their story back centuries.
In China, Baijiu is a drink of celebration normally taken with food at banquets. It is gifted, collected and revered. It is served in small glasses or cups, like a shot in one go! Every region has its own style, and each is different.
It comes in thousands of varieties, made in different ways and flavours vary dramatically. The category is divided, based on taste, aroma, ingredients and production process. It is often very strong in alcohol and also very strong in flavour!
I first found Baijiu over 25 years ago when I was living and working in China. There were very few Westerners and China was very different from how it is today. I spent all my time with my Chinese colleagues and dinner typically meant Baijiu and therefore Baijiu became a part of my life. Some I loved and some I didn’t, but I really fell for a certain type of deep fruity Baijiu often categorised as strong aroma Baijiu. The intense ripe pear flavours and aromas were so unique and yet familiar at the same time.
For years afterwards I wondered why I hadn’t seen anyone successfully bring Baijiu to a Western audience. And why, even though it was then and still remains, the biggest selling spirit on earth, it had not broken out of its traditional market and taken the world by storm.
However, when I tried to get my western friends to drink Baijiu, some of the challenges were very apparent! It was typically too strong and too complex and drinking shots of it was never going to be their favourite pastime! Even in China, I saw it slowly losing its connection to younger people as they fell in love with a more Western drinking culture and with Western brands.
Having said all of this I couldn’t forget how I had found certain Baijiu in China and developed a true and lasting love for the unique flavours and aromas they delivered.
Fast forward 20 years and I found myself involved on the fringes of the craft beer revolution in the UK. I learned about how under certain conditions beer fermentation could produce compounds called esters and how brewers would control fermentation to limit this process so as not to produce too much. I also remembered that it was these very same compounds which gave the Baijiu I really loved their unique character.
Esters are rich in ripe fruit notes and are a definitive element of many of the most famous Chinese Baijiu. They also became a catalyst for this entire story. Working with some great brewers I set about trying to create a beer which was oozing with these very compounds to see how the key flavours of Baijiu might work as part of a beer.
This wasn’t some random act. I was fascinated by the fact that unlike any other distilled spirit Baijiu carried so much of its character from fermentation and how that very fermentation phase was something we replicate in beer. After what seemed like forever, we hit upon a method which delivered exactly what I was after. A beer which was full of the ripe fruit tones of Baijiu, immediately recognisable to initiated Baijiu drinkers but balanced and delicious.
Baijiu Beer was born.
It was an immediate hit both in the UK and China. However, its biggest effect on me was that it showed me that the future for Baijiu outside of its traditional market would be based on not only blending the spirit but blending culture to reimagine its potential.
Baijiu Beer truly blends Western beer culture and Chinese spirit culture. What I realised was that the same approach could deliver an honest and respectful Baijiu which was not trying to be a slavish copy of Chinese Baijiu, but which would have its own evolved character and identity. An identity which was a result of genuine cultural blending, that was authentic and yet truly contemporary, and which would as a result have everything needed to bridge the divide between Baijiu and its deserved place in a global setting. The brewery we used is now our brewery and our own distillery was opened in 2019.
Think about Vodka for one minute. It has evolved wonderfully from its original cultural setting in Eastern Europe where it is traditionally taken in a very similar way to Baijiu, neat, short, strong and with food. Modern vodka is sophisticated, versatile and sits in every single bar. Yes, it is still taken short and straight but also in cocktails and with mixers.
Vodka has the advantage of being somewhat neutral in flavour compared to Baijiu, but it also lacks character, and I was convinced there was a balance where Baijiu could hold on strong to its uniqueness but still work in a new setting.
I also realised around this time that there was an even better analogy to be drawn around Chinese cuisine. Chinese cuisine has truly enraptured the west. However, the Chinese food we have fallen in love with is not a slavish copy of the food you will find in China itself. It is an evolution and one of great authenticity. It is a story of travellers and immigrants, of Marco Polo and generations of pioneers and of the combination of cultures which has over time lead to something which is truly Chinese and yet truly itself. Thinking deeply about the journey of Vodka and of Chinese cuisine I was in no doubt that for Baijiu to take on the world it had to evolve in the same way, with honesty, integrity, with a respect for its heritage but with an authenticity born out of the journey and not just the starting place.
“Authentic” Definition – ‘Of undisputed origin and not a copy, genuine.’
This definition guided us and inspired me to realise exactly what we needed to do and how to do it.
Baijiu Society is a result of our own entirely authentic Baijiu journey, and our Baijiu is the result of a comparable adventure, one which has tied me to China and my friends there for over 20 years. We developed a method based on the oldest methods in China and never seen before in the UK, delivering a spirit which is undeniably Baijiu in flavour and aroma, but which is authentic and not a copy! It also absolutely has to work in a contemporary setting! Yes, we drink it short and strong, and we made it super smooth to do just that, but we blended it to work beautifully with tonic and soda and to ensure it plays its part perfectly in a cocktail.
Infusing fruit into Baijiu is as old as Baijiu itself and is also a process found in the history of almost all spirits. Key for us is that when we do, we do it well and with relevance and never at the expense of the Baijiu experience.
“What unites us is far greater than what divides us”
Having lived and worked in China with Chinese people every day and dined with them every night I know that what unites us is far greater than what divides us. You will often read about how unusual Baijiu culture may be to Westerners and how it might be tough to get a taste for the spirit, but it is not as unusual as you may have been led to believe and Baijiu itself is a clear spirit which varies across China comparable to how clear spirit varies across Europe. Think of Vodka, Gin, Raki, Ouzo, Grappa, Schnapps all clear, all spirits and all very unique!
Our vision for the Baijiu Society is to start the process of culturally blending Baijiu into a drink experience that enraptures the World as well as a whole new generation of drinkers in China. You only have to see our Baijiu and beers in action in Shanghai with a young audience who are removed from traditional Chinese Baijiu to see just just how relevant our vision is both in the East and the West.
There are some amazing Baijiu projects on the horizon as a whole new generation of distillers and mixologist start to tell the story in their own way and we are with them all the way! In the same way we will support and shout for the big Baijiu makers to do all they can. However, what separates us is our determination to do this not as copy of Chinese Baijiu or as an adaptation of an existing Baijiu but as a cultural evolution that will truly ignite the World and see Baijiu take its place amongst the established spirits roster in any bar, anywhere.
What does unite us all is Baijiu, this unique, enigmatic and deeply revered spirit, full of character and full of life and ready for the next adventure!