Baijiu, which is typically bottled between 100 and 120 proof (compared to roughly 90 proof for whiskey), is fermented in mud pits or jars buried underground, distilled, and aged in clay vessels. The drink is often divided into four different “fragrance” categories: sauce (as in soy), rice, light, and strong. In its best iterations the flavor notes range from smoky, not unlike mescal, to fruitcake, like sherry-cask-aged whiskey. Mike and Eric are novice baijiu drinkers, and our first taste does not bode well. While I find the shot to be surprisingly smooth and fruity, at least as far as baijiu goes, I notice a grimace on Mike’s face. I can tell he’s struggling for something to say. “It’s got a pine-nut thing going on,” is all he musters.
—Mitch Moxley, writing in California Sunday magazine about baijiu, China’s national drink. Made from sorghum, this clear white spirit lubricates social gatherings and facilitates business, and few Americans have heard it. Those who have tasted it rarely want more, though businesses in both China and the U.S. are trying to change that.