First blood: Wuliangye

Photo by renaissancechambara

Last week I had baijiu for the first time in well over a year, courtesy of my friend Tony. We were drinking Wuliangye 五粮液, a local (distilled in Yibin, Sichuan) brand named after the five grains used in its base and considered to be among China’s finest baijius. People pay upward of $100 a bottle for Wuliangye, well out of the price range of most casual Chinese drinkers.

It was smooth, had complex flavors and left not a shade of a hangover this morning. The only catch was that it tasted like lighter fluid and horse piss. Taking my task seriously, though, I sloshed it around in mouth in an attempt to delve deeper into the flavor profile and find a redeeming feature. The aftertaste was particularly interesting. It was a harsh, fiery taste, but there was also something sweet. Raisin or apricot, if I had to pick something.

“I think it smells like rubbing alcohol,” Tony said – and he actually likes the stuff.

That’s the sad truth. There’s no skirting the issue that it tastes and smells distinctly industrial. Paint thinner, jet fuel, whatever – its not going to go away no matter how much of it I drink. I have to own up to the fact that no amount of knowledge will make this early drinking any easier. For now, the stuff is radioactive.

“Another glass?” Tony asked.

“No, I think that’s enough.”

Butane-flavored burps lit the way home.

268 drinks to go.

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3 Responses to First blood: Wuliangye

  1. artbb says:

    yeah, I think that drinking just one shot of Wuliangye wouldn’t cause a hangover. This is one of the best ones however, if you can afford it. Luckily I have never tasted horse piss myself so I can’t comment whether it bares any similarity to that. (On a side note, I have had the misfortune to have tasted monkey piss. The bottle had a label that said “Corona”)

    It might help if you could you talk a little on your alcohol preferences? Do you think that vodka, gin, vermouth etc also taste like lighter fluid, paint thinner and rubbing alcohol or are those tastes that you enjoy? I asked some friends about the 300 shot theory and they didn’t think there was much to it, the most common comment was “you either can handle it or you can’t”. Maybe it is like Sichuan mala peppers in this way.

    • Derek says:

      Thanks for your comments. Regarding the hangover, I probably should’ve mentioned that I was drinking beforehand and the glass was a generous pour (though I only counted it as two, because I couldn’t remember how big). In terms of my own drink preference, I like a glass of whisky (single malt, blended and Boubon) most days and enjoy several liquors as well (vodka being my next favorite). On a normal week, I’ll also have several glasses of wine, a handful of beers, as well as a few mixed drinks. The only alcohol I make a point of not drinking is gin, perhaps due to a juniper aversion. It may be true that the 300 drink threshold may not exist, maybe it does. I used to hate mala peppers, but I eat a lot more of them since I moved to Sichuan and I’m starting to come around. Hopefully baijiu will be the same way. I guess we’ll find out in about 250 shots.

  2. Christian M says:

    A Chinese friend recently brought back a bottle of Wuliangye (五粮液) for me. It was a very thoughtful gift and I was really curious to try it. Thanks so much for posting the jailbreak instructions because until this morning, when I found them, I had been staring hopelessly at the impregnable clear-plastic contraption. With your help, I was able to safely open it and finally try the mysterious elixir my friend claimed his grandfather swore by. As you alluded to in your description, it’s truly a unique experience. I’ve never tasted anything like it. Raising the glass to my nose, I smelled what I thought was distilled sweet potatoes and something else I couldn’t figure out until I tasted it. When it hit my tongue, it tickled it like pop rocks and then I could feel the 52% alcohol content burn it’s way through my mouth. Then a series of flavors registered in distinct succession. There was an acerbic earthiness that first came forth, sort of like blue cheese (I know that must sound impossible and unpleasant). It was followed by a separate raisin-honey, sweet-fruitiness and then followed with an anise-like finish. It was so different than anything else I’ve had that it’s really hard to describe. In some ways it had qualities like a rustic anisette or raki — something made by a local artisan that puts hair on your chest and lead in your pencil. But with the other layers of flavors, especially at the beginning, it really made for a unique drinking experience. I will definitely keep sampling a shot or two over time until I finish the bottle and hope to better appreciate it after enjoying it over time. Thanks again for the review and the instructions. Keep on sipping and posting!

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