Baijiu – China’s most popular and ancient liquor

People & Culture

Baijiu – China’s most popular and ancient liquor

As globetrotters, we think you’d agree that when you’re travelling, there are few ways you can really embrace a culture than trying their local favourite spirit. When in Rome, as the saying goes. However, no one on planet earth seems to be telling anyone to try baijiu when travelling in China. It’s…an acquired taste to say the least, but you’ll be surprised how popular it is! Baijiu is to China, as what whisky is to Scotland, what vodka is to Russia, beer to Belgium, or sake is to Japan. However, baijiu tastes…awful! But we still feel like it’s one great way to taste a little bit of the China you never hear about. This is by far the most popular, local liquor in the most populous country on planet earth.

China has a liquor-brewing history dating back at least 5000 years! Over the centuries, the standard recipe made could be considered to be a type of baijiu, basically a grain liquor. Baijiu is traditionally made from sorghum, a type of grain, but today you’ll find variations made from wheat, barley, millet, etc. it’s a clear liquid, and has an alcohol level around 40-60% – this is strong stuff! Occasionally you’ll hear it labelled as Chinese ‘White Wine’, but one sniff and you’ll know what your dealing with!

600_Year_Old_Distillery
The Shui Jing Distillery excavation

Now you can experience baijiu and learn about Chinese history at the same time. In Chengdu (a city famous for it’s Giant Panda zoo), you’ll find the Shui Jing Distillery who have been brewing baijiu since 1408! A few years ago, in 1998 during a substantial renovation of their old building, they unearthed an ancient, large-scale distillery operation lost from memory, presumed to be none other than the original distillery. The distillery already claim (albeit with a few challengers around the world) to be the oldest distillery on earth, but few can actually say they still have the ‘original’ equipment which started them out.

A Giant Panda in Chengdu
A Giant Panda in Chengdu

You can visit the distillery in Chengdu as part of a private tour. Here they don’t just make one kind of Baijiu, but have several variations, the finest being filtered through a particular kind of bamboo charcoal. The process is both fascinating and historical. We actually recommend travellers to Chengdu to also consider a culinary tour, as Chengdu is in Sichuan, one of the gastronomic gems of China, with distinct, flavourful food found all over China (and the world). Chengdu is often overlooked by travellers in a hurry, who race here just to see the Panda’s, which honestly take up a few hours at best. To fill up your time while in Chengdu, 1-2 days can easily be spent exploring Sichaun cuisine and washing it down with baijiu. To get into the history in China, we suggest getting into the baijiu!