Never Heard of Baijiu? Here’s What You Need to Know

Baijiu could soon be big in America. Find out what it is now.
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Pop quiz! Baijiu is ... (pick one)
A. The French word for "jewelry"

B. The first name of a model-actress who’s the daughter of that guy from the Mamas and the Papas

C. A marshy body of water in the Southern United States
D. That song Megan sang to Don for his 40th birthday on Mad Men

The answer is actually E. none of the above. Baijiu is the best-selling liquor in the world — with global sales at about $23 billion, mostly in China, where it is the official national drink.

What? You’ve never heard of it? Here’s, basically, what you need to know:

1. Baijiu, which is pronounced “bye-joe” and literally translates as “white liquor,” is an extremely potent — like, 100 proof and up — fermented spirit made from sorghum and other grains (sometimes glutinous rice, millet, wheat or corn). It has a funky taste that has been compared to dirty athletic socks, paint thinner, old cheese and, somewhat more flatteringly, very ripe fruit.

2. It may date back thousands of years — or at least as far back as the Han dynasty.

3. Today it is immensely popular in China, where it is drunk — in one gulp, in shot glasses, repeatedly and accompanied by toasts — generally at meals and often as part of establishing or furthering a business relationship.

4. In 2012 the Chinese government apparently got so fed up with the amount of money being spent on baijiu, which can be super-pricey, at lavish banquets by its officials that it enacted austerity measures to curtail baijiu's consumption at government-sponsored meals — a move that hit baijiu makers hard.

5. To compensate for this lost revenue, baijiu producers are now targeting the Western market.

6. A cocktail bar dedicated to baijiu (which comes in different flavors or “ fragrances”) recently opened in New York’s Greenwich Village, and mixologists at other NYC bars are starting to experiment with it too.

In other words, look out: Baijiu could soon be big in America and headed straight for your cocktail glass. Gulp!

Photo courtesy of iStock
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