Last week I outlined the aspirant baijiu drinkers’ dilemma: too many choices, not enough information. Now I propose solutions in the form a comprehensive list of my personal favorite baijiu for various budgets and at various price ranges. I’ll be posting a different flavor category each day this week.
I recommend starting with the strong and weak-aroma categories and then working your way through the peripheral categories. They all have distinct tastes, so it’s worth trying each category until you find the one that best suits your palate. Please note the highly subjective nature of this undertaking, so I strongly encourage you to chime in on the comments section with your own suggestions.
We’ll get the ball rolling with our first category…
Strong aroma (nong xiang 浓香)
Outrageously expensive: Guojiao 1573 国窖1573 by Luzhou Laojiao 泸州老窖
Made it what LZLJ claims is the nation’s oldest operational fermentation cellar, with over 400 years of residual sorghum funkiness in every bottle. Despite that, it’s a fantastically smooth and delicious strong-aroma without any unpleasantness at the back end. Clearly one of the best in its category, but it’ll cost you.
Quite expensive: Shuijingfang 水井坊
A relatively new baijiu in the crowded super-premium Sichuan strong aroma market, but this Diageo-Quanxing joint venture has been making up for lost time with a marketing blitz so pervasive that Inuits should know about it within the year. But their money is where their mouth is: This is a quality baijiu. So good that it beat out all the heavy hitters in my blind taste test. It’s a better value than other super-premium baijius, as much as anything that costs over US$100 can be considered a value. Plus every bottle is imprinted with a lion that looks suspiciously like Aslan when you’re drunk. What’s not to like?
A little less expensive: Jiannanchun 剑南春
Not cheap, but enough of a discount from the super-premium strong aromas that you can at least take one step away from the ledge. Jiannanchun is a well-established, dependable baijiu. Good bite, nice flavors and goes down like a charm. It’s also a five-grain baijiu, so it makes for a more affordable alternative to more famous Wuliangye 五粮液.
Dirt cheap: Quanxing 全兴, Luzhou Laojiao 泸州老窖, or just about anything else that can be purchased for about RMB15/US$2.50.
The bad news: It’s all going to burn a lot going down (and maybe a little bit going out). The good news: Cheap strong aroma is reasonably tasty for what it costs and pairs well with spicy food.
Wild card: Purfeel 21 纯享21 by Tianchengxiang 天成祥
A 21% alcohol by volume baijiu for the 21st century is how this Pernod Ricard-Jiannanchun joint venture bills itself. If you’ve got a bottle of something else on the table, it’s going to taste a little watery, but Purfeel is perfect for a dinner with baijiu beginners, guests from abroad, or for a lunch meeting where you would prefer to leave less than hammered. Also works well with cocktails.