A Glass of Swine

yubingshao

I first read about Yubingshao 玉冰烧 (Jade Ice Spirit) almost two years ago and I had been dying to get my hands on a bottle ever since. Yubingshao is the flagship product of the Shiwan Distillery, based in Foshan, Guangdong Province. It is classified as a chi-aroma 豉香 baijiu, as in douchi 豆豉, the salty Chinese condiment made from fermented beans, but it contains no beans. In virtually all respects, its production is identical to that of rice-aroma baijiu save one crucial difference: It is aged with jars filled with pig fat. And no, you did not read that incorrectly. This rabbi’s nightmare of a baijiu is infused with lard and for that reason is sometimes also referred to by the less appetizing zhi xiang 脂香, fat aroma, appellation.

Needless to say, this is not the easiest baijiu to get one’s hands upon. I sent several friends on exploratory missions in Shenzhen. Each time they came back empty handed. Luckily, I was able to convince the distillery to send me a couple bottles for my baijiu tasting in Shanghai last summer.

There were two bottles: the standard Yubingshao and a six-year variety. I started with the original, which smelled of glutinous rice. I took a sip, and noted what appeared to be a flat, rather bland rice baijiu. But then the pig hit me on the back end, like getting slapped in the face with a slab of bacon. It was an odd, somewhat salty, somewhat oily finish that I found strangely compelling. Odder still, the more upscale offering was less appealing than the bargain-basement variety. Every taster agreed on this point.

So I recommend the cheap stuff. Does it offer good value? Yes. Will it change the way you see the world? Probably not. Is it the best pig-based spirit I’ve ever had? Unquestionably.

It’s pig in a bottle, folks, and that’s good enough to name it my baijiu of the month for January 2014.

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2 Responses to A Glass of Swine

  1. Pingback: China: A Glass of Swine · Global Voices

  2. 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.”

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