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Baijiu News Review: Year of the Rat Edition

A deep dive, Moutai madness, a British baijiu and much more.
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New Year rats baijiu

Happy Year of the Rat, lovers of baijiu. It’s a New Year, so we’re trying something new: news!

We recognize that not everyone follows the latest developments in Chinese spirits as closely as we do, so we’re going to start flagging the occasion bit of noteworthy baijiu-related coverage to be released monthly, quarterly, whatever—we haven’t figured it out yet.

Some of these stories relate to the industry, some relate to Chinese culture, and some of it is downright self-serving. But hey, the world of English-language baijiu commentary is a small one, so try not to judge us too harshly and enjoy.

Gong xi fa cai, xinnian kuaile, 🐀🐀🐀.

Headlines

China’s Ancient Spirit Seeks Global Foothold—Simon Molony, Global Drinks Intel
A nice overview of the current efforts to bring baijiu to a broader international market, with commentary from many of the leading players.
“It is the world’s top-selling spirit, but many consumers outside of China have never heard of baijiu. Now China’s ancient firewater is going global.”

What’s Coming Up in White Spirits in 2020?—Richard Woodard, Just-Drinks
“The size of the baijiu category in China is awe-inspiring. However, it’s not easy for international businesses to get involved, despite Diageo’s success with its majority stake in Shuijingfang.”

Thompson’s is “First” UK-made Baijiu—Owen Bellwood, The Spirits Business
The headline writer chose to bracket “first,” when perhaps “baijiu” would be more apt. This is a story I’ve been following with some interest as it raises all sorts of philosophical questions about what makes a baijiu a baijiu. Is it where it’s made? I’d say not—just ask our friends at Vinn. Is it the ingredients? This one uses sorghum. But can one still call a drink baijiu if it’s not made using traditional Chinese production techniques? That’s a question that remains to be answered.

India Gets High on Chinese Baijiu—Isha Arora, Financial Express
Shout-out to Rojita Tiwari and our friends at Jiangxiaobai, opening up new frontiers in baijiu!
“ ‘The international white spirits category in India has shown a robust double digit growth during the last few years and the cocktail culture is also growing well. This provides a great platform to introduce a new white spirits brand in India,’ says Sumedh S Mandla, chief executive officer of Vbev, on the rationale behind the launch.”

Moutai Madness—The Economist (paywall)
Any article that recounts my trial with the “Demolition Girls” gets an automatic repost.
“Moutai has been the global booze sensation of the decade[….] It does this while disregarding every Western marketing mantra. It is not global, has meagre digital sales and does not appeal to millennials. Its scores pitifully on environmental, social and governance measures. In the Boy Scout world of Western business it would leave a bad taste, in more ways than one.”

Culture

This is a Deep Dive on the Glorious and Diverse World of Baijiu—Alex Panayotopoulos, Smart Shanghai
A wonderful, and wonderfully succinct, introduction to Chinese spirits. With some of my top baijiu recommendations to boot.

How to Drink Wine with Chinese Food this New Year—Fuchsia Dunlop, Financial Times
The great Fuchsia Dunlop takes a look at how to best navigate the New Year’s feasting with lower-alcohol alternative. It’s much simpler to pair Chinese food with baijiu, but it’s good reading nonetheless.
“Chinese social mores and manners throw another spanner into the works of wine-pairing conventions. At formal meals, strong baijiu liquors are typically drunk from tiny cups or glasses in ritual toasts; these days, red grape wines are consumed in the same manner. It’s considered poor form to sip your booze as you please: instead, you must raise your glass in toast to one or more of your companions, or wait for them to toast you, and only then have a drink.”

Self-Promotion Corner

‘Drunk in China’ Review: The Proletariat’s White Wine—Hugo Restall, Wall Street Journal
“So can foreigners learn to love baijiu? Derek Sandhaus proves it is possible. But it takes some work, as he describes in ‘Drunk in China.’ ”

Derek Sandhaus, Drunk in China—Book Larder Podcast
I leave you with the audio of one of the best conversations I have had about Chinese spirits with writer Matthew Amster-Burton, recorded live at the Book Larder bookstore in Seattle. Hope you have as much fun as I did.


Drink Baijiu moderator pic

Derek Sandhaus

The Bai-ologist

Derek Sandhaus is the educational director of Ming River Baijiu. He is the author of several books about China, including Baijiu: The Essential Guide to Chinese Spirits and a forthcoming book on Chinese drinking culture, Drunk in China (Potomac, Fall 2019). He currently lives with his wife and dog in Washington, D.C.