Lifestyle & Belief

Baijiu is coming to America, but will the popular Chinese liquor go down smooth?

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REUTERS/China Daily

Bottles of Moutai baijiu on sale at a supermarket in Xuchang, China. Baijiu is a popular Chinese liquor distilled from fermented sorghum and rice.

The name literally means “white liquor.” But moonshine might be a more accurate translation.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

China has been producing the grain alcohol known as baijiu for centuries and it remains one of the most-consumed liquors on earth.

Baijiu is immensely popular with Chinese drinkers of all stripes, though it has never really caught on here in the US like Japanese sake, or even Korean soju.  

Isaac Stone Fish says there is good reason for that. He is the Asia editor at Foreign Policy magazine and he's written about companies trying to turn America onto baijiu.  

“There are a lot of different types and they have different flavors,” Stone Fish said in an interview with The World. “But they all share a – at least to me – kind of, a nauseating aftertaste. [It's] like you bit your tongue too hard while you were drinking and your mouth fills with blood.”

“I'm not a huge fan,” Stone Fish added.

Broadly speaking, Chinese baijiu is a type of super-strong booze distilled usually from sorghum, but other grains as well. It might be medicinal, or not.

It could be infused with fruit, spices or even a snake. Downing shots of the stuff is popular at Chinese banquets, as Stone Fish says, “before, during and after the meal.”  

In recent years, several companies have been trying to introduce the stuff to the American market. But Stone Fish thinks they face an uphill struggle to turn the liquor into the next big thing, because baijiu is – to put it delicately – not particularly tasty.

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