Our first reader question comes from Andrew in Shanghai, who asks:
“Is there a baijiu that lends itself to keeping like a single malt—having a dram once in while and not finishing the bottle in one sitting? I was thinking of getting a bottle of Lai Mao [by Maotai Zhen] to have at home, but the flavour deterioration after it oxidizes kind of rules it out as an occasional sipper. And: Is sipping baijiu allowed?”
As I’ve noted before, drinking baijiu is traditionally a group activity in which you’re supposed to finish the bottle in one sitting, and drinking by oneself is generally frowned upon. As far as I know Li Bai is the only Chinese person who has ever gotten away with drinking alone (and one could argue that he had the moon and his shadow for company).
While I do enjoy a good baijiu-soaked meal as much as the next guy, I see no good reason why you can’t break with convention. If you want to drink it slowly in a relaxed setting, I say go for it. I’ve got a bottle of Jiannanchun in my liquor cabinet, and I enjoy pouring myself a glass every now and then during what is normally my whiskey hour. The factory manager at Kweichow Moutai has also told me that their baijiu keeps its flavor well over time in the bottle, so you can take that (almost assuredly) biased suggestion for what it’s worth. As for which other brands keep well, I’m less certain, but think you’ll probably be safer buying in the RMB100+ range.
Oxidization, as your question suggests, is the biggest challenge to overcome. Some baijius react so quickly to oxidization that their taste can transform over the course of a meal. Some have suggested that the decline in quality due to oxidization becomes more pronounced the emptier the bottle gets. I don’t pretend to understand the science well enough to assess the validity of such claims, but it would seem to follow logically that more air equals more oxidization. So I have two suggestions to combat air infiltration if you find your favorite baijiu doesn’t keep well:
- Buy smaller baijiu bottles. Many baijiu brands, even at the super-premium level, produce their products in smaller sizes. With a half or quarter-sized bottle, you can drink the bottles more quickly and limit the volume of air.
- Transfer your baijiu to smaller bottles when you’re nearing the end of a bottle. It’s the same logic as step one except you make the smaller bottles yourself. This is a trick I’ve seen practiced by the most devoted of whisky drinkers, and I see no reason why it wouldn’t also work for baijiu.
Anyone else have a favorite sipping baijiu or anti-oxidization tips? Drop them in the comments section.
Got a question about baijiu? Send it to derek (at) sandha.us.