It is unusual to review for a bar that one has never visited, but I am so excited about Bill Isler and Simon Dang’s recently opened Capital Spirits, that I just can’t help myself. It is the world’s first full-service baijiu bar and, as such, I have put together a little introduction to help assist you in your first, second or twentieth visit.
What it is…
Just what it sounds like: a bar with a killer selection of baijiu. You don’t have to just order the baijiu—they have other stuff—but you should. And what better place to learn about baijiu? It’s sleek, comfortable and more importantly you won’t have a team of ornery Chinese businessmen trying to force it down your throat. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but a more relaxed setting will no doubt appeal to most baijiu novices.
What to drink…
Baijiu, naturally. But there are so many options: You can order by the brand, in a cocktail (more on these in a future post) or choose from one of six signature baijiu flights.
Unless you are a seasoned baijiu drinker, I recommend starting with the Intro Flight, which features a mid-range baijiu from each of the four major baijiu flavor categories: strong, light, sauce and rice aroma. This will leave you in a good place to compare the basic flavor profiles of most baijius.
Once you have dispensed with the intro flight, you should pick your favorite category and do a second flight specific to that category. The best part is that you can do the Intro plus any of those flights for under RMB100 (~US$16) total. That’s a really small price to pay to walk into a bar knowing nothing about baijiu and to leave with knowing your preferred category and brands.
Those of you with deeper pockets who are ready to step it up a notch will be interested in the Deluxe Flight, featuring four top-shelf offerings: Kweichow Moutai’s Feitian, Yanghe’s Mengzhilan, Jiannanchun and Wuliangye. Yes, the flight costs RMB180 (~$30), but that’s less than half the price of a bottle of the cheapest baijiu on the list. It’s a great opportunity to the baijius previously out of reach for most casual consumers.
If you’re ready to truly enter the dragon, I’ve taken the liberty of designing an off-the-menu flight for baijiu blackbelts. This is a flight of baijiu outliers that should fit-in nicely in your shot glass. It includes: Lao Guilin, Xifeng Jiu, Dongjiu Guomi and Hengshui Laobaigan. It starts light and mellow with a crowd-pleasing sticky-rice baijiu, increases in complexity through the next two pit fermented baijius and culminates in a palate scorching 67%, smoke-out-your-ears shot of Laobaiganrrrrr. Just tell them you want the Sandhaus flight (reasonably priced at RMB60) and good luck.
And for the most adventurous among you, no trip to Capital Spirits is complete without a shot of Cantonese snake baijiu. Impress your friends, heal your rheumatism and savor every slithery sip. If you can get past the obvious outward grossness, and don’t mind picking a scale or two from your teeth, it’s actually quite good. No bullshit.
What not to drink…
Beer, wine or any of the other drinks you can get at any other bar anywhere in the world. I’ll judge you, Bill told me he would judge you, your friends will judge you too. This is not to suggest that you should only order baijiu when you visit Capital Spirits, but just be sure not to leave without at least trying one new variety.
For those of you determined not to try the baijiu (I know you’re out there, maybe not reading this blog, but I know you’re out there), a couple of suggestions. Try some Tibetan Barley Beer or a nice glass of the YJ-45, a white whiskey distilled on site from Yanjing Beer. At least you’ll still be trying something out of the ordinary in either case.
Who should go…
Everyone. Co-founder Bill Isler tells me that thus far the crowd has been a nice international mix of customers. Locals tend to order more by the glass than the flights and, curiously, female patrons prefer the snake wine.
Among those baijiu haters who have visited Capital Spirits thus far, Bill claims to have achieved a greater than 50% conversion ratio, by which he means “no longer hating baijiu, saying it was better than they remembered, eager to explore more in future etc.” He is careful to note that this does not mean that baijiu has suddenly become their favorite drink, but neither is it mine. I love baijiu, but I just love whiskey more.
Thankfully, one is not required to abandon all of the other favorite drinks in order to appreciate baijiu. The more options the better, I always say, and Beijing’s bar scene just got a lot more intriguing with the opening of Capital Spirits.
So stop by, enjoy it and ganbei. Or sip. It’s up to you.
#3 Daju Hutong (Just west of Dongzhimen Nanxiaojie)
For more info, please visit the Capital Spirits’ website.
All images courtesy of Capital Spirits.