IN GOOD SPIRITS
FOR ITS NEWEST CREATION, THIS AUSSIE ICON HAS JOINED FORCES WITH THE WORLD’S MOST POPULAR LIQUOR - AND CHANCES ARE YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF IT.
It dates back around 700 years and more than five billion litres of it are consumed each year, with shots thrown back non-stop at celebrations and weddings. But chances are, you’re probably unaware of Baijiu, China’s most popular hard liquor. The Baijiu consumed today came to be during the Ming Dynasty. Steamed sorghum and other grains are mixed with water then jiuqu, a fermentation kick-starter, is added before distillation takes place. Depending on the style of Baijiu, the spirit is then put in underground jars, mud or brick pits and left to age anywhere from a few months to several decades. The result is a spirit that ranges in potency anywhere from 40-60 per cent ABV. But despite its heritage, there’s still room for fresh interpretations. The most recent innovation in the Baijiu category has been led by famed Australian winemaker Penfolds, in its new spirited wine with Baijiu. James Godfrey, Penfolds global fortified and spirits winemaker, spoke to GQ about his latest concoction. “Looking to create something unique, we experimented with many difference spirits,” he says. “But most just didn’t fuse well with our wine; they imparted too much oak.” Fortified with both grape spirit and Baijiu to a more modest 21.5 per cent ABV, the release is destined to introduce a new spirit category to Australian, and international, consumers. “It imparts a wonderful savoury quality,” says Godfrey, “very different to the more common, sweeter wines influenced by Europe. Cutting back on the sugar also makes the wine pair well with food, while the juicy Australian Shiraz brings forth the well-known cherry and aniseed notes of Penfolds.” Baijiu consumption has been dropping since President Xi Jinping implemented measures to cut unnecessary government spending. This, paired with the country’s younger population looking beyond domestic drinks, suggest Baijiu sales may be at risk. Luckily, brands are eyeing the West as a new market, while Western drinks producers have started to notice China’s best-selling spirit and its potential.
BAIJIU CHEAT SHEETPenfolds ‘Lot. 518 Spirited Wine with Baijiu’ is best served room temperature. No surprise it pairs well with Chinese food, particularly dishes like beef in black bean sauce.