China’s favorite spirit tries to break into global market

World Today

A motley crew of baijiu aficionados is trying to promote baijiu and its culture globally. Their mission: to win over new world palettes with this old world spirit.

But first, they had to win over CGTN’s New York correspondent, Liling Tan.

Baijiu is the most popular liquor in the world, thanks to China’s massive domestic market. But in New York City, only a handful of bars and restaurants carry the spirit–and Kings Co Imperial in Manhattan’s Lower East Side is one of the few.

Bill Isler is a baijiu expert who developed his taste for the liquor from living in China for fifteen years, where 12 billion liters of baijiu were consumed last year.

But why has the spirit not caught on outside of China? Part of it is the reputation it has. It is perceived as a drink favored by middle aged men, it is an acquired taste, and it packs a powerful punch.

“Baijiu is not really one spirit, but it’s a whole family of different spirits,” said Isler who is also the CEO of Ming River Sichuan Baijiu. “[It has] over ten thousand distilleries in China, over twelve recognized styles, and then four main styles.”

They are the rice aroma, light aroma, strong aroma and sauce aroma.

Isler and Ming River’s,main mission is to open people’s minds to the idea that baijiu is not one thing but it’s a whole other world of spirits. He and fellow afficionados are widely known for opening the world’s first baijiu bar in China, and serving the liquor by the glass instead of by the bottle and mixing it with cocktails. 

They are also taking that concept to Germany, Los Angeles and New York.

CGTN’s Mike Walter spoke with Jim Boyce for more on Baijiu’s appeal. Boyce is the founder of World Baijiu Day, along with writing several alcohol and nightlife-related blogs, such as Grape Wall of China.