Talking World Baijiu Day with Jim Boyce

Jim Boyce

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.

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World Baijiu Day

Ladies and gentlemen, mark your calendars. August 8, 2015. A day that shall live in infamy. After years in the shadows baijiu is having an international coming out party on a grand scale: It’s time for World Baijiu Day.

World Baijiu Day is the brainchild of Beijing-based drinks writer Jim Boyce. You remember Jim, he was with me in the trenches during the great baijiu blitz of ’13 , and we talked sorghum sauce in Beijing last year at the Bookworm International Literary Festival. We once even crossed paths in Buenos Aires…

jimandderekba

Anyway, about six months ago Jim tells me that he is planning to organize a World Baijiu Day for the auspicious date of the eighth day of the eighth month (eight is lucky in Chinese, in case you’re context blind). I told him I thought it was wildly ambitious, impractical and borderline insane—everything I love about baijiu.

So Jim went off, made a killer website and started reaching out to all the baijiu lovers scattered across the globe. He has been keeping us up-to-date on the latest happenings and cocktail trends. He has got people making baijiu gummies, baijiu beer and even deep fried baijiu. And all that on top of his other work as a prolific wine writer. For someone spends as much time as Boyce does around alcohol, he is way too productive. (Nudge, nudge. Knock it off, you’re making the rest of us look bad.)

And now, two weeks out from the big day, he’s already got about 20 events scheduled in more than 15 cities spread across three continents. As for me, I’ll be throwing back a few baijiu cocktails at Lumos in New York City.

Where will you be on World Baijiu Day? For a full list of events click here.

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Introducing Lumos: An Interview with Orson Salicetti

Orson-Qifan

Lumos founders Orson Salicetti and Qifan Li

 

New York has a baijiu bar. I repeat: New York has a baijiu bar.

Last year we witnessed the opening of the world’s first baijiu-themed bar, Capital Spirits in Beijing. But that was in China, which was logical and, to be frank, long overdue. It’s hard to overstate the importance of Lumos: Not only is it the first baijiu bar in New York City, it is the first in the United States and quite possibly anywhere outside of China.*

To commemorate Lumos’ upcoming opening on May 18, I spoke with bartender and co-founder Orson Salicetti. Born in Caracas, Venezuela, Orson moved to New York from Europe in 2000, and has since established himself as an accomplished bartender. In 2008 Apothéke named him head bartender, for which he was declared a “Mixology Rising Star” the following year. He later began a spirits consultancy, developing bar programs in New York around the world. Earlier this spring he and partner Qifan Li announced that they were opening Lumos, a bar devoted to Chinese spirits.

DS: How did you get into Chinese spirits?

OS: The first time I tried baijiu was after the summer of 2008. Some friends of mine from New York had gone to the Olympic Games and brought back a few bottles that we tried together and my first impression of it was very overwhelming. It’s a high proof spirit with a strong flavor and aroma.

DS: What’s the vision behind Lumos?

OS: Most of the bars that I have developed have unique and different concepts, because I am constantly research and anticipating the next trendy thing. Qifan and I met through a friend and after some time talking we decided to take this idea of developing a place dedicated to the drinks of her ancestors. Lumos bar specializes in baijiu and presenting it in a modern way that shows Chinese history and culture via baijiu.

The vision behind [Lumos] is passion for spirits, to do something unique and special, using baijiu as it has never been used before to make delicious cocktails.

DS: Baijiu has a notorious reputation for being difficult to mix. What are the challenges for a bartender when working with baijiu?

OS: Baijiu is a high-proof spirit so that is the first challenge. You need to be familiar and comfortable with the aroma and taste to balance it in a cocktail without sacrificing them.

Baijiu’s flavor is different from any other spirit. It’s a powerful fragrance and that is good. The advantages of baijiu to me are the sweet, rotting fruit and nutty sherry—you need to respect these notes and play with them. Again, it’s about balance.

DS: What would you consider to be your signature baijiu cocktail?

Lumos CocktailOS: One of my favorite creations with baijiu is a sesame colada. Made with caramelized pineapple, cooked for about 3 to 4 hours. White Chinese sesame paste, mangosteen, agave nectar and of course baijiu. It is garnished with toast black sesame seeds.

DS: Will you also sell baijiu by the shot or bottle? How many different types of baijiu will you have?

OS: We will sell it by the shots, small signature Lumos bottles and in cocktails.

I believe [that] we are close to 40 brands now and I am still adding more to the list. These are some of the brands I already have: Wuliangye and Wuliang Chun Jiu; Luzhou Laojiao and Luzhou Laojiao Zisha; Jiannanchun; Xifengjiu; Jianzhuang; HKB; Shui Jing Fang; and more.

DS: What do you think the biggest challenge is in terms of getting New Yorkers to accept baijiu?

OS: As with any new trend we have to exercise patience while building interest and educating the customer, to understand the product and fascinate people with it. It took time for people to like pisco, mezcal, cachaça that were not popular years ago in the West and are now strong in the cocktail scene.

DS: What do you think will be the key to ensuring baijiu’s success in the United States?

OS: Keep drinking it and educating people on it!

Fine advice, Mr. Salicetti. Fine advice indeed. Lumos opens to the general public on May 18. Put it on your summer to-do list.Lumos Logo

Lumos

90 West Houston

New York, New York

(626) 409-8696

* This is not intended as a jab at the handful of pioneering bars and restaurants across the country that feature baijiu cocktails. I hear good things about LA’s Peking Tavern, to name but one example. The difference here is in focus and scope.

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A visit to Yanghe

The problem with talking about baijiu is that every time someone asks you to define it, you invariably end up having to get more detailed than you would like. This is as true when speaking to casual drinkers as it is to bartenders and whiskey distillers. Too many times to count, I have watched as my unwitting enabler’s eyes glaze over at descriptions of yeast cultures and solid-state fermentation. Baijiu is just too different: There are almost no readily available points of reference. Everything about the production process remains oddly abstract and conceptual.

To bring the conversation back down to earth visual aids are useful (I always bring a slideshow when I speak to an audience about baijiu). Visiting a distillery to see how baijiu is made firsthand is even better, but for most people that’s not a realistic option. So rejoice, baijiu enthusiasts, one of your fellow readers, Ms. Amy Coghlan of China International Duty Free, has taken it upon herself to take you on a guided tour through one of China’s premier distilleries: Yanghe 洋河 in Suqian, Jiangsu Province. (She was kind enough to upload this video production video to YouTube just for 300 Shots readers, so be sure to thank her in the comments below!)

If a picture is worth a thousand words, as the cliche goes, then a Youtube video is worth 24 thousand low-resolution words per second. Enjoy.

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Cocktail: Ming the Merciless

MingThis is a recipe I have been meaning to share for a while, and the Chinese New Year seems a good a reason as any to share it.

I first had this tasty cocktail down at the Root Squared Bar in New Orleans last summer at an event organized by the fine folks of Baijiu America. There are a couple of things that I love about this one. First it uses strong-aroma baijiu as its base,* and I’m always impressed when a bartender can pull that off, but what really sets this aside is the innovative use of Sichuan peppercorns in the Demerara syrup.

Like many great wines, baijiu is intended to be compliment food and, more specifically, the cuisine of the region that distilled. So to drink a Sichuanese baijiu (strong aromas generally hail from the province) in a cocktail made with the most distinctive ingredient in Sichuanese cooking is at once obvious and ingenious.

Happy Goat Year, xin nian kuai le and the rest of it.

 

Ming the Merciless

Created by Max Messier at Root Squared, New Orleans

-1½ oz. Strong-aroma baijiu (Max used Mianzhu Daqu by Jiannanchun)

-½ oz. Sichuan Peppercorn Demerara syrup (see recipe below)

-¾ oz. lime juice

-Soda water

-Fresh lime slices

Pour all liquid ingredients into an iced cocktail shaker. Shake well and top with soda water in a Collins glass. Add fresh lime slices for garnish.

 

Sichuan Peppercorn Demerara

-1 cup water

-2 cups Demerara (raw) sugar

-¼ cup of Sichuan Peppercorns, smoked in a pan for 2-3 min. on high heat

Add sugar and water to pot. Bring to boil and add Sichuan peppercorns. Return to boil and turn off heat. Cover and steep for 30 mins. Strain, bottle and refrigerate for 4 weeks.

 

 

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