The inaugural World Baijiu Day is just two days away! I hope you’ve made your plans, if not go here and find the nearest event to you.* In honor of this momentous occasion, I asked Mr. World Baijiu Day, Jim Boyce, just how all of this came about.
DS: Why World Baijiu Day and why now?
JB: Because I was bored and this was an intriguing project. Trade people regularly say baiju doesn’t get enough global attention, so this should be one way to put a small spotlight on this spirit. I’ve also witnessed local grape wine go from being widely dismissed by most people to gaining some respectability over the past decade and I figured something like World Baijiu Day might help baijiu on its own path to wider visibility and acceptance. Finally, I thought it would be fun to work with bars and restaurants on creative ideas, whether for cocktails or infusions or food pairings or even the deep-fried baijiu we tested here in Beijing, and learn more about this spirit myself. Our informal theme is “beyond ganbei”, which means activities which go beyond simply opening bottles and pouring shots, and it’s nice to see that it’s resonated with so many people.
DS: How receptive have you found people to be to the idea?
JB: Not surprisingly, there has been a wide range of reactions. Quite a few people in China shake their heads in disbelief or confusion that I am organizing this, while friends abroad are generally intrigued, seeing baijiu as some exotic liquor they should try. There are, of course, exceptions. One of the best results has been the number of acquaintances here in Beijing I’ve found who are interested in baijiu. The reactions of trade people have been equally mixed. Some baijiu producers have been very helpful while others have been incredibly slow to react, if they do so at all. And it’s interesting that some of the most enthusiastic people in the bar and restaurant business are those with little or no baijiu focus but who like the idea of coming up with something fun for this event. So, it’s been a pretty big mix of reactions.
DS: Who has the most interesting event planned for WBD?
JB: It’s hard to pick one. I like what two of the earliest venues to sign up are doing: Peking Tavern in Los Angeles will feature the winner of its recent baijiu cocktail contest, along with hand-pulled noodles and ping pong, while The Golden Monkey in Melbourne will use its range of cold-brewed teas to make a baijiu iced tea. It’s also fun to see the guys at Houston-based ByeJoe organizing tastings in five cities as well as lots of creative marketing materials. And here in China, we will have everything from ginseng-infused baijiu with chocolate at DoubleTree by Hilton in Guangzhou to baijiu cocktail and food pairings at Shen in Shanghai.
But if I had to narrow it down, I think I’d go local and say it’s a tie between the “qu brew” craft beer being made by Jing-A Taproom and the deep-fried baijiu at Windy City Ballroom in Beijing. I think even someone who has an aversion to baijiu would be curious about how both of those taste.
DS: How can baijiu win back China’s scarred expat masses?
JB: One imbiber at a time. I’ve been writing about Chinese grape wine for a long time and slowly seen attitudes change. Hardly anyone was interested in what China had to offer ten years ago but now we see a steady flow of writers, consultants, academics, winemakers and consumers eager to try local wines. It’s no longer rare for someone to have been on a wine tour of Ningxia or Hebei or Shandong. In fact, it seems as though you aren’t up-to-date on world trends now if you haven’t tried some of the wines from China’s smaller and better producers. I think baijiu needs to go through some of those same steps. The recent WSET baijiu master class in London could help. If baijiu eventually becomes part of the curriculum, it will be considered a need-to-know spirit for many people in the trade.
I’m also a fan of introducing people to baijiu via cocktails, infusions and foods—pretty much anything that is an alternative to an endless stream of room-temperature high-proof shots that results in a wicked hangover and an aversion to this spirit. I’m not against the occasional ganbei session, I just don’t think it’s the best way to get people to appreciate the history and the diversity of baijiu. And I’m a fan of comparative tastings, too, of lining up different brands and styles and trying them, something anyone can do at home. Even if someone is not a fan of baijiu, he or she can at least find that they prefer Brand A to Brand B and Brand C, and that’s a key step in appreciating this category of spirits.
So there you have it, straight from the lips of Mr. WBD hisself. Happy Baijiu Day to one and all. Ganbei!
*I will be slamming cocktails at Lumos for World Baijiu Day. If you’re in NYC stop by and say hi.