Cocktail: No Regrets

no_regretsWhenever I talk about baijiu, people always want to know what it’s going to take for baijiu to cross over into foreign markets. The answer is far from certain, but a lot of people, myself included, think that baijiu’s future will be strained through a cocktail shaker, and with good reason. Like the Moscow mule, the margarita and, more recently, the pisco sour, tasty cocktails have long played an indispensable role in introducing unfamiliar spirits to foreign audiences. I don’t know which cocktail will become the emblematic baijiu cocktail, but I have enjoyed trying the early efforts of various trailblazing bartenders.

I was lucky enough to have one such bartender, Badr Benjelloun, mix baijiu cocktails at one of my recent talks in Beijing. Badr runs Cu Ju, a bar specializing in rum, which is more appropriate to baijiu experimentation than one might realize. As he explained to the audience, bartenders are just starting to wrap their heads around baijiu and how it works in cocktails, but they have figured out a couple of key things. First, don’t try to hide the baijiu; the flavor is too strong. Second, citrus is the perfect complement to baijiu. Chinese spirits are sweet and fiery, so they tend to mix in a similar manner to rum. Most of the best cocktails I have had thus far, for example, contain some rum or are modified versions of classic rum cocktails. Badr is just the kind of bartender you want making your baijiu cocktails.

The night of the event, Badr mixed two cocktails, the Yellow Emperor (which I have already written about at length) and his own creation, the aptly named “no regrets.” No regrets was marvelous. Minty, fruity and refreshing, it was something akin to a grapefruit baijiu mojito. Badr was kind enough to share his tremendous recipe with me, which I am now passing on to you. Although the original recipe is made with lao bai gan-style baijiu, any mild light-aroma of similar strength (like erguotou) should do in a pinch. If you give this one a shot, you’re going to like it.

No Regrets

Ingredients

45ml Henghsui Lao Bai Gan 54% 衡水老白干54%

45ml Pink Grapefruit juice

10ml Orgeat syrup

Mint and goji berries

Squeeze of lime

Muddle the mint and goji berries in a shaker alongside the orgeat syrup and the baijiu. Add grapefruit juice and ice. Shake for approximately 15 to 20 seconds. Strain into a rocks glass and garnish with mint, goji and a squeezed lime.

 

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“Baijiu: The Essential Guide to Chinese Spirits” Out Now

Slipping out of focus while serving the thirsty masses in Beijing

Lots of exciting things are afoot in the world of baijiu connoisseurship. Last week saw the official release of my new book Baijiu: The Official Guide to Chinese Spirits. This book, as discussed earlier, culminates several years of well-lubricated research, much of it mentioned on this blog, but there is plenty new to sink your teeth into. The book should now be available at bookstores throughout the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong, and is downloadable as an ebook in two versions: Kindle and epub.

Several advance copies of the book found their way to readers last month, when I traveled to Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing for a series of baijiu-related talks. Thank you to everyone who attended, asked questions and shared a ganbei or several with me. The events were a blast and some readers have already started putting the book to good use.

While touring around China I happened across a number of interesting drinks and drinkers, about which there will be several more posts in the weeks to follow. But for now, here is a brief run-down of the trip’s highlights:

Audience favorite baijius: Guilin Sanhua’s Lao Guilin (rice aroma); Shui Jing Fang Wellbay (strong aroma)

Best baijiu cocktails: Dark and Smoggy (Vance Yeang, Yuan, Shanghai); No Regrets (Badr Benjelloun, Cu Ju, Beijing)

Best moderators: Andrew Galbraith (huangjiu taster extraordinaire); Jim Boyce (prolific China wine and nightlife writer, whose tasting notes also grace my guide).

Best publisher: Penguin China, of course

Best assist: Shui Jing Fang, who generously supplied a boatload of their exquisite super-premium baijiu. More about the distillery in my next post.

In case you missed my talks, do not despair. You have options. I would like to direct your attention to this amusing interview I did with Debra Bruno for the Wall Street Journal Scene Asia blog prior to the trip and corresponding video interview. Or you might like to check out last week’s interviews with CNN and China Daily. And for good measure another link to last month’s Sinica podcast.

Happy reading.

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Sinica: We Will Make You Learn to Love Baijiu

The conventional wisdom is that one should never meet his heroes, as they generally fall short of expectations. So it was with some trepidation that I entered an apartment in Beijing last week to sit down with Jeremy Goldkorn and David Moser to record a Sinica Podcast. They proved the old adage dead wrong.

For those of you who don’t pay much attention to China, or who have been living in a hole, Sinica is a weekly podcast that ranks among the finest English-language discussions of all things China. I’ve been listening to Sinica for years, and so it was a real honor for me to be invited on the show to discuss baijiu while I was passing through Beijing. The Sinica team was great and we had a nice little discussion about Chinese firewater.

I encourage you all to give it a listen:

We Will Make You Learn to Love Baijiu

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Tour de Baijiu

BN-BV585_Baiju2_EA_20140310052944

CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this post I mentioned that the event at the Hutong in Beijing would be held on Thursday, March 21, which is a bogus date. The event will be held on FRIDAY, March 21. Sorry for any confusion.

Books and baijiu, what could be better?

I hope you are all as excited for Baijiu: The Essential Guide to Chinese Spirits as I am. But now I have even more exciting news to share with my China-based readers. You are about to have the opportunity to get your hands on copies of my new book weeks it hits bookstore shelves. As if that were not enough, you will also have the chance to meet the author.

That’s right, later this week I will depart Washington for a whirlwind baijiu tour of China’s three biggest metropolises – Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing – where I will dazzle audiences and give presentations on all aspects of baijiu and Chinese drinking culture.

Details as follows:

Hong Kong

  • Baijiu, Book Launch
artichoke [ canteen ] gallery 

unit 311, 3/F Harbour Industrial Building, 10 Lee Hing Street, Ap Lei Chau, Hong Kong

Sunday, March 16, 7pm

Kicking off a jam-packed week of book events, I’ll be speaking in Hong Kong, where many an English sailor had their first sip of samshu. My talk will cover the history, culture and production of Chinese wines and spirits, capped off with a guided tasting. Should be great fun.

Shanghai

Monday, March 17, 6:30pm

M1NT Club

24 Floor, 318 Fu Zhou Road (close to Shan Dong Middle Road)

福州路318号,近山中路,大厦24

This talk will focus on the business side of Chinese drinks. It will cover a range of topics including the evolution of the Chinese baijiu industry, baijiu’s international ambitions, and a crash-course in baijiu drinking etiquette. Advance reservations available online.

  • Baijiu, Book Launch

Tuesday, March 18, 7:00pm

Yuan

17 Xiangyang Bei Lu, near Julu Lu

襄阳北路17号1楼2室, 近巨鹿路

Returning to my favorite Shanghai baijiu bar, Yuan, this talk will cover the history of Chinese alcohol and the production of baijiu. With baijiu cocktails prepared specially for the event at the bar and free admission.

Beijing

Wednesday, March 19, 6:00pm

iQiYi

1 Sanlitun Nan Lu, Chaoyang district (near the Bookworm)

朝阳区三里屯南路1

I love the Bookworm and their first-rate literary festival! For this talk, I will look more at the ways in which China’s culture has influenced, and been influenced by, its alcohol. With in depth looks at politics, religion, philosophy and of course literature. Guided tasting to follow.

Friday, March 21, 6:30pm

The Hutong Kitchen

1 Jiu Dao Wan Zhong Xiang Hutong

九道弯中巷1

I’ll be rounding out my visit to China with a comprehensive discussion of all things baijiu: Culture, production, business, you name it. Brought to you by the Hutong Kitchen and Swedish Young Professionals, this event will include a double-whammy guided tasting of some of my favorite baijius AND a baijiu cocktail to boot. Reservations available online.

Hope to see all of you there.

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Q&A: Pig in a bottle, continued

pigs

In response to my recent post about Cantonese pig spirits, I received an wonderful comment and question from reader Samuel Curtis, who writes:

Yubingshao…it’s the quintessential Cantonese baijiu and the name is a pun in Cantonese. 玉 and 肉 are homophones in Cantonese (Yuk) but not in Mandarin (Yu and Rou respectively). Although the Cantonese are hardly drinkers compared to Northerners, and if they do they prefer brandy to high-end baijiu. This explains why chi-aroma baijiu are always in the low-end of the price spectrum.

By the way… can this thing be a niche product in the US? Many people would be curious at the “bacon alcohol.”

Although the pig taste is understated in Yubingshao, it’s definitely there. In a market as bacon-hungry as the United States, I could actually see drinkers start taking to this mild but delicious baijiu.

As an export, there is a lot to like about Yubingshao: It’s mass produced, dirt cheap and distilled in close proximity to China’s largest ports. On the other hand, I can’t help but wonder if the sanitary conditions used in the pig fat infusion process would raise any red flags in my hyper-litigious homeland. One must also consider that at present Yubingshao’s market is limited to southeast China, and the transition from regional to national spirit, let alone international spirit, is often slow and painful. And all this fails to take into account that bacon-flavored spirits already exist in the US, so there would be competition.

Despite the risks, the prospect of bringing the relatively obscure Yubingshao to the States is intriguing. The bacon, the approachability of rice baijiu and the price tag are just too hard to overlook. Anyone interested?

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