I had a qu today. After almost two years of getting rebuffed at every distillery I ever visited, a guy finally says to me, “Hey, you want to go see where we make the qu?” And then he marches me into a dank, dark room filled to the ceiling with festering blocks of wheat qu wrapped in woven bamboo. Needless to say, this was a big moment in my baijiu development.
The guy pulls a brick off the top and takes it into the sunlight for better viewing. He cracks it in half so I can check out the dark veins of microorganisms and the mold forming inside. The source of all baijiu was right there in front of me and, unexpectedly, he offered it to me. Explaining that it could be awkward to carry around, he said he’d have someone stick it inside of a plastic bag for me.
My half qu weighed about five pounds. I set it aside and returned home that evening triumphant. Holding out the red plastic bag to my wife, I told her that I had brought her a surprise.
“What is it?” she asked, smiling.
“Go ahead and open it,” I said, pushing it toward her.
She unwrapped the outer bag and had started to open the inner when she stepped back, saying, “Jesus, what the hell is that smell?”
“It’s gross,” she said, putting it down and walking away as I slowly deflated.
“But don’t you want to see baijiu’s fermentation agent? Come look at the microorganisms,” I called to her, unwrapping my brick. It did smell, something like a cross between cow patties and burnt oatmeal.
She came in and we considered the half brick together. Glancing first the microorganisms and then the slightly less micro organisms crawling around in it. It was infested, or one hundred percent organic as they say in the industry. I ran outside and threw it in the garbage. And so ended my brief ownership of a qu brick.
For all the wonderful drinks that qu can make, it really is kind of gross when you get down to it. As with sausage, so goes baijiu: good to consume but better not to look too closely at how it’s made.