The final countdown

All good things must come to an end. For my sake it’s fortunate that this rule also extends to prolonged grain-alcohol stunt drinking. On May 15, 2012 – a date which will live in relative obscurity – I finished the 300 shot challenge.

My baijiu education concluded in most appropriate fashion: with a final examination. Three drinkers, one fried rabbit and nine bottles of baijiu were spread across the table. Five of the bottles, prepared by a friend in the baijiu industry, were unlabelled. I was not told which baijiu brands had been selected or their price range. The test involved taking a shot from each bottle and then trying to place the baijius in order from most to least expensive. I rolled up my sleeves, tied on my drinking bib and made my stab in the dark. My results were as follows:

  1. Shuijingfang (RMB900/US$140)
  2. Guojiao 1573, Luzhou Laojiao (RMB1,300/US$205)
  3. Tianchengxiang (RMB800/US$125)
  4. Jiannanchun (RMB400/US$63)
  5. Wuliangye (RMB1,200/US$190)

Not exactly a perfect score, but there are a couple of things worth noting.

Guojiao 1573, which I considered to be one of the best baijius I had tried up to that point, was right up there at the top; a consistent result.

Shuijingfang, which I had not yet tasted, and Tianchengxiang, which I had tried and liked, also received high marks. Both brands are produced by international joint ventures and are by far the newest brands. So while I may indeed have placed them correctly in terms of quality, it’s possible they haven’t yet had time to develop the reputations necessary to demand as high a price as their exorbitantly expensive competitors.

The definition of having your work cut out for you.

As for Jiannanchun and Wuliangye at the bottom? Jiannanchun tastes just fine, but it isn’t a super-premium baijiu like the others. No problem there. I found Wuliangye’s taste to be a little unusual, so that’s my excuse. Perhaps they’re just resting on their laurels at this point. In fact, I’d consider just about any explanation to avoid directly addressing the fact that I put the second-most expensive baijiu in last place.

Thus lubricated, I presented the other two drinkers with a much easier test: See if you can tell a nice bottle of light-aroma Fenjiu from the Xinghuacun distillery from another bottle of Fenjiu brewed in someone’s backyard. Both guessed the correct answer without difficulty and the backyard bottle was put to one side.

The rest of the night was a messy affair that involved a grand total of 25 shots (bringing my shot count to negative five), dancing at a Club Muse and getting into a heated argument with my dog. But I suspect you probably want some grand summation of my journey, so moving right along…

I started my blog by confessing that I did not like baijiu, and now I end my journey with another confession: I started liking baijiu months ago. By “liking,” I don’t just mean “tolerating,” either. I mean enjoying the taste of baijiu, enjoying the ritual of baijiu drinking and enjoying the surprising fact that it rarely produces a nasty hangover. I could tolerate baijiu very early on, after, say, 50 shots. By around 100 my feelings were neutral and by 200 I happily downed just about anything put in front of me. Sauce aroma, strong aroma, Erguotou, whatever. I could drink it all. I don’t believe it takes 300 shots to start liking baijiu – it takes far less.

What I cannot abide, and doubt I ever will, is the awful industrial-tasting burps that last for up to a day after drinking baijiu, not to mention the way it smells when you sweat it out at night and, at the risk of being crass, what happens in the bathroom the next morning. But as all experienced drinkers know, man’s relationship with alcohol is one fraught with peril. We must take the good with the bad. Intoxication without side effects? Harrumph! That’s for sissies and pot smokers.

The challenge is over and, I hope, decided solidly in favor of drinking baijiu. Now is not, however, a time for tearful goodbyes. My journey has ended, but the story’s only half told and I’ve much left to teach about our funky little friend. So now begins the real test of my baijiu mettle. Can I make you like it?

Zero shots to go.

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3 Responses to The final countdown

  1. ethyl alcohol, no matter the form, dehydrates the body .. dehydration = hangover.

    • Derek says:

      Indeed it does, but I think we can agree that not all hangovers are created equally. Some studies suggest that the high concentration of fusel oils in baijiu may make ethyl hangovers less severe (for more on this check out my discussion in the post entitled “Will baijiu kill you?”).

  2. Pingback: » Mid-Week Links: Sina Weibo pushes censorship onto users, a Good Samaritan is saved by surveillance tape, and be better, foreigners Beijing Cream

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