pernicious and poignant sorghum balanced with a whiff
of wheat... Is it Maotai or perhaps Wuliangye? This
week the Comrade, who happens to be a Chinese white
spirit connoisseur (as opposed to dilettante imbiber
Ayi), is playing the game which non-baijiu drinkers
might consider both precarious and preposterous, but
which those with a pro's nose (and a bad case of the
DT shakes) consider a daily recreational activity.
Imagine my surprise and shame when I discovered that
the wonderfully noxious concoction I assumed was a RMB300-a-bottle
brew was in fact no more than a RMB5 bottle of Shuanggou
daqu (fermented peas can often sharpen the spirit, making
the alcohol content seem up to 10 percent higher than
it actually is). Cab drivers, police officers, and other
baijiu drinking experts throughout China are raising
their eyebrows and shotglasses to what used to be considered
didang and zhongdang (low and middle grade respectively)
baijius.Obscure baijiu producers throughout China are
scurrying to jumble up ingredients to produce baijiu
blends that are as abominable and putrid as the famous
In the past, low- and middle-grade baijiu producers
were reluctant to commit themselves to a rigid formula
with fixed ingredients. Price fluctuations could affect
production costs and detract from profits. Since a veritable
potpourri of ingredients such as maize, barley, oak,
millet and dung can all be used to make baijiu, producers
would simply purchase whichever raw material was cheapest,
or compensate with imaginative substitute ingredients
and that old standby formaldehyde. Chinese laws regulating
baijiu ingredients, and labeling of bottles has forced
producers to commit to a fixed recipe and stick with
it. If the price of a key ingredient goes up, producers
must bite the bullet and buy it. Other strictly enforced
laws regulating the parts per volume of rodents and
migrant workers in the baijiu also help to control quality.
China's more expensive baijiu, such as Maotai and Wuliangye
are priced out of the reach of most common workers.
Wang Dong, a Beijing taxi driver and avid and excessive
baijiu drinker comments, "Chinese people are poor. We
can't afford high-class wines and spirits. So I just
drink Erguotou. It's less than RMB10 a bottle." The
challenge for low- and middle-grade baijiu producers
has been to emphasize affordability without sacrificing
putrescence and even alcohol poisoning. Some innovative
producers are whipping up barrels of baneful alternatives
to high-end baijiu. Shanxi's Xifeng brand baijiu has
managed to achieve a flavor that is evocative of the
RMB330-a-bottle Guizhongguijiu - subtly poisonous with
an acidic bouquet and a smarting afterbite without being
overly trenchant or obnoxiously poignant. And in a proper
price/punch ratio, its 48 percent alcohol content enhances
its irresistible street price of RMB24.
Many low-end producers recognize the importance of investing
heavily in production technology. Some producers boast
real mercury thermometers for efficient temperature
control, and genuine digital clocks for accurate timing.
Obviously, such technological innovations give producers
an edge over the competition.
It is important that the proper baijiu accompany each
meal. When eating fangbianmian (instant noodles), dry
biscuits, or fried rice, Fenjiu is revoltingly appropriate.
Kongfu Jiajiu goes disgustingly well with niurou gan
(beef jerky) and dried octopus tentacles. For a hearty
meal of fishhead soup, nothing is as foul and loathsome
as Site Jiu. When dining on gizzards, intestines, lungs,
hearts and other neizang (viscera), Yanghe is a must.
For a lethal companion to dishes of animal feet, claws
and paws, try Jianzhuang.
If it is your habit to drink baijiu from 8 oz. glasses,
paper or plastic cups or directly from the bottle, then
there is no baijiu etiquette for you. But remember that
when drinking baijiu out of small shotglasses, there
are certain rules you must abide by. Always make a small
toast or gesture to the other comrades at the table
and drink with them, not alone (wait till you get home
to drink alone). When your comrades' glasses are empty,
it's polite to fill them, starting with whoever has
the most money and on down the line, always pouring
for yourself last. When someone else pours for you,
hold your glass up with two hands, one on the bottom
of the glass. Originally this was meant to help the
imbiber keep from dropping his glass in his drunkenness.
If you think you're too drunk to hold up your glass
even with both hands, just tap your fingers on the table.
To signal that you've had enough just vomit all over
yourself and you won't have to drink anymore, otherwise
you'll have to wait until you get to the taxi before
vomiting out the window.
Contrary to popular belief, if you peng (clink) glasses
with someone, you don't have to drink everything in
your glass. Usually you can drink suiyi (as much as
you want), unless someone specifies banbei (half glass)
or ganbei (dry glass). Rather than clinking glasses
with everyone at the table, you can simply tap your
glass on the table before you drink.
A FUN GAME: No, it's not setting baijiu on fire
(your comrade once burned half his beard off with that
trick)... when entertaining guests, be sure to pour
glass after glass of baijiu for them and insist that
they drink it all or you'll be insulted. When they ask
you to drink, say wo buhui (I can't drink), and pour
yourself a glass of tea. Don't let them leave until
they are falling-down drunk. This game is called ba
mouren guan zuile (getting someone drunk), and is a
5,000 year-old tradition in China.