3 of a Kind: Baijiu

Find out which celebratory liquor is joining vodka, gin and the rest of the crew as a popular spirit.
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3 of a Kind checks out three places across the country to try something cool, new and delicious.

In the not-too-distant past, most Americans had never heard of baijiu. Most probably still have not. But this ancient Chinese spirit — made from sorghum and/or rice — is actually the most heavily consumed alcoholic beverage in the world, due largely in part to an avid fan base in China. The potent liquor (many brands are 100-proof and higher) has recently begun making headway in the United States, particularly at top-tier cocktail bars. With varying flavor profiles that range from gentle (with rice and pear notes) to heady and slightly nutty, this celebratory liquor is joining vodka, gin and the rest of the crew as a popular spirit.

This Los Angeles bar brought the Chinese drink to the spirit-loving masses of Southern California, offering top brands in assorted cocktails. The most popular and regular option is the Peking Coffee, which is essentially a Chinese-Mexican-Irish coffee. Equal parts Red Star baijiu, horchata liqueur and coffee liqueur are shaken, strained, poured into a coupe glass, dusted with cinnamon and garnished with a whole cinnamon stick.

Opened in fall 2015 by Qifan Li and former Apotheke lead bartender Orson Salicetti, New York City’s Lumos is the first dedicated baijiu bar in the country. The cocktail list includes pages of baijiu-focused drinks, shots and infusions. The most refreshing is the Goji, which combines goji berry-infused baijiu, mezcal, pink grapefruit, lime, organic agave nectar and orange bitters. The result is akin to a slightly smoky, complex version of a paloma.

This family-owned Portland, Ore., distillery handcrafts its own rice-based products, including a popular baijiu that is thought to be the only brand produced and bottled in the United States. Its tasting room offers samples as well as mini cocktails created by local mixologist Robbie Wilson. Dragon’s Tail is a favorite. Equal parts Vinn Baijiu and Lillet Blanc are mixed with fresh grapefruit and a bar spoon of maraschino liqueur, shaken and strained, then served with a grapefruit twist.

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