Whenever I talk about baijiu, people always want to know what it’s going to take for baijiu to cross over into foreign markets. The answer is far from certain, but a lot of people, myself included, think that baijiu’s future will be strained through a cocktail shaker, and with good reason. Like the Moscow mule, the margarita and, more recently, the pisco sour, tasty cocktails have long played an indispensable role in introducing unfamiliar spirits to foreign audiences. I don’t know which cocktail will become the emblematic baijiu cocktail, but I have enjoyed trying the early efforts of various trailblazing bartenders.
I was lucky enough to have one such bartender, Badr Benjelloun, mix baijiu cocktails at one of my recent talks in Beijing. Badr runs Cu Ju, a bar specializing in rum, which is more appropriate to baijiu experimentation than one might realize. As he explained to the audience, bartenders are just starting to wrap their heads around baijiu and how it works in cocktails, but they have figured out a couple of key things. First, don’t try to hide the baijiu; the flavor is too strong. Second, citrus is the perfect complement to baijiu. Chinese spirits are sweet and fiery, so they tend to mix in a similar manner to rum. Most of the best cocktails I have had thus far, for example, contain some rum or are modified versions of classic rum cocktails. Badr is just the kind of bartender you want making your baijiu cocktails.
The night of the event, Badr mixed two cocktails, the Yellow Emperor (which I have already written about at length) and his own creation, the aptly named “no regrets.” No regrets was marvelous. Minty, fruity and refreshing, it was something akin to a grapefruit baijiu mojito. Badr was kind enough to share his tremendous recipe with me, which I am now passing on to you. Although the original recipe is made with lao bai gan-style baijiu, any mild light-aroma of similar strength (like erguotou) should do in a pinch. If you give this one a shot, you’re going to like it.
45ml Henghsui Lao Bai Gan 54% 衡水老白干54％
45ml Pink Grapefruit juice
10ml Orgeat syrup
Mint and goji berries
Squeeze of lime
Muddle the mint and goji berries in a shaker alongside the orgeat syrup and the baijiu. Add grapefruit juice and ice. Shake for approximately 15 to 20 seconds. Strain into a rocks glass and garnish with mint, goji and a squeezed lime.