Liquid swords

Ah, Chengdu in the springtime. The bugs, the humidity, that burnt-tire smelling je ne sais quoi outside my window. I’d been away a while and to celebrate my return, I wanted some quality local spirits.

Jiannanchun 剑南春 (South of Sword Spring) is one of Sichuan’s best-loved baijius. Named after a Tang Dynasty wine which we now know little about (Jiannanshaochun 剑南烧春), the brand was founded during the 1950s in Mianzhu. With its factory a couple hours north of Chengdu, near the epicenter of the devastating 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake, Jiannanchun has had a rough go of it in recent years. Luckily it has bounced back, remaining one of the better baijius in the strong-aroma category and expanding their product line in a joint-venture with international spirits giant Pernod Ricard ( known as Tianchengxiang ­天成祥.

I started at a friend’s birthday dinner with a bottle of the joint venture’s eponymous Tianchengxiang mixed-aroma blend (80% strong aroma, 20% sauce aroma), which, though not yet widely available, retails for about RMB800 (US$130). It took 20 minutes or to get through the security packaging, but after fetching the Jaws of Life and a blowtorch we succeeded in recovering a bottle.  And what a bottle – a sleek and sexy feminine silhouette that the manufacturers claim is round on top and square on bottom to represent the ancient Chinese conception of a round heaven and square earth. Smart phones were unholstered, as everyone just had to have a pic of the bottle to drool over later. The baijiu was good, too. It had the taste of a quality strong-aroma: a little fruity, a little earthy, and it went down smooth. Even the baijiu skeptics among us seemed to enjoy it.

Tianchengxiang, you sexy bitch

Later that week during what is normally my whiskey hour, I decided to try casually sipping some of the classic Jiannanchun brand, which goes for about RMB400 (US$65). The aroma was sweet with some floral notes. The taste was citrusy, a bit of a pineapple flavor to it. It didn’t tingle much at the front of the tongue but as it worked it’s way around to the sides and back there was the kind of bite I have come to enjoy in my whiskeys. All in all a good local substitute.

To think that I would have scoffed at the idea of sipping baijiu a couple hundred shots ago. Tastes change, I suppose. It’s good to be back home.

20 shots to go.

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