“If you don’t drink Dongjiu, you don’t know alcohol (dong jiu).”
Now I enjoy a good pun as much as the next hack, but Dongjiu’s brand motto really is quite special – bold, clever and memorable. It also inadvertently evokes memories of this advertorial gem from my childhood:
Ah, to be a Royals fan in 1990. But where were we? Ah yes, Dongjiu.
Dongjiu Distillery is located in Donggongsi, a small town in northwestern Guizhou not far from Maotai. This places it firmly in sauce-aroma country and not too far from strong-aroma territory. But as far as the similarity between Dongjiu and other nearby distilleries goes, it might as well be distilled on the moon. What they make is a singular spirit known as a medicine aroma (yaoxiang 药香) or a “Dong” aroma, though I hesitate to use the latter (this is a family blog, after all).
To make its signature blend, Dong ferments its sorghum in two separate pits, one large and one small. In the larger pit, the sorghum is fermented with wheat-based big qu. In the smaller pit, the sorghum is fermented with rice-based small qu. Strong aroma uses yellow mud pits and sauce aroma uses brick-lined pits, both sealed with mud. Medicine aroma uses pits lined with white mud mixed with lime and star fruit stems, which are sealed with coal during fermentation. Once fermentation is completed, the mashes are mixed and distilled together.
So why is it called medicine aroma? Because packed within that rice-based small qu are over a hundred different kinds of traditional Chinese medicine (generally herbs and assorted animal bits). What kinds of medicine? Dongjiu’s lips are tightly sealed. The distillery’s signature baijiu is called Guo Mi 国密, or “State Secret,” and the company supposedly won’t even let visitors take photographs inside the distillery.
When I tried Guo Mi earlier this year at my Shanghai tasting, the feedback was all over the place. On smell, I heard everything from animal skins and lemon to sour cherry cola and blue cheese. The taste was alternately described as resembling white pepper, seawater and pears that develop into a bitter, anise-like finish. Good luck making any sense out of that. I couldn’t, and yet somehow all that weirdness came together to create an outstanding spirit. Until the full recipe is declassified, I guess I’ll just have to be content enjoying it.
This standout baijiu is my pick for November. For those of you keeping track at home, that’s two baijius-of-the-month in a row in which I’ve selected a new aroma category. And I’m just getting warmed up…
P.s. Thanks for bearing with my two-month blogging hiatus. I was in the process of moving my life from Chengdu to the United States, about which more in the next post.