Baijiu: A Little ‘Wet Dog’ Never Killed a Man
Alcohol holds the privilege of being an intimate part of every culture on earth weaving itself into traditions and customs that make each country unique. In China, that alcohol is Baijiu (BuyJoe). clear, aromatic liquor with a distinctive flavor.
I used to house sit for a friend in upstate New York who owned a cute place at the edge of a lake, oh and three dogs. Have you ever smelled wet dog? Three wet dogs sunning themselves on the porch after a dip in the lake creates a musty/sour aroma that you don’t easily forget. It’s true that our past experiences mold the way we perceive future encounters because the first time I drank Baijiu, I knew exactly how to describe the fragrance: spicy, wet dog, with a kick. Its robust and complex fragrance is definitely an acquired taste.
That having been said, your drinking career would not be complete without a night or two with this spirit. While Wuliangye, Luzhou’s Tequ and Erguotou are all popular brands, Maotai is considered China’s ‘national liquor’ and worth having a try even at the higher price. If after trying it you decide it’s not for you, I’ve discovered that it works great as glass cleaner for the windows or bathroom mirror.
How to drink it:
In the ancient epic Romance of the Three Kingdoms, three unlikely heroes prick their fingers mixing drops of blood into a bowl of Chinese alcohol, and each takes a sip as a sign of friendship and loyalty. Honestly, you get some pretty strange looks from your friends when you suggest this method. Just pull out some shot glasses and smile. This is not the sort of spirit you typical mix into cocktails but some have had success adding 7Up, Litchi liqueur or pear juice.
The alcoholic choice for older men ready to get their toast on, ceremonial use of Baijiu is a fundamental part of Chinese culture today. Baijiu usually accompanies meals and special occasions. Toasting over a meal is believed to ensure victory, health, happiness, and good fortune for colleagues and friends. In my opinion, toasting with Baijiu is like saying, “Hey this is not going to taste very good but at least we’ll get a blessing.”
The Rules for drinking with others: keep your glass lower than the host as a sign of respect and don’t stop drinking.
Brewing methodsethods and distillation:n:
The white alcohol brewing tradition on goes back thousands sands of years. While hile the Han and Tang Dynasties both had recipes for brewing alcoholic beverages, the method relied upon today has its roots in the Song Dynasty (960-1297). They start with corn, mixed grain or sorghu sorghum grain boiled in a large steam cylinder. NextNe the grains are spread out in pits to startst the fermentation proces process, then distilled and stored in clay jars for four to five years, so sometimes as lo long as 50. During th the maturation stage stage, other elements may b be added such as walnuts, wolfberries, dates and evengeven ginseng.
The aging process mellows out the bite. There is a significant difference between a carefully agedage product and the three RMB bottles at the corner store. This is definitely a more refined process than my grandfather’s backwoods moons moonshine.
My father called it ‘grandfather’s cough syrup,’ but it was really just my grandfather’s home brewed white alcohol. The belief that alcohol can cure illnesses is another common thread connecting humanity. Chinese alternative medicine defines some of the best parts of Chinese culture and white alcohol is not forgotten in this process. Flowers, herbs and roots are added to the blend of Chinese fruit wine and distilled spirits to create unique medicinal elixirs. Including tiger-bone and snake, wolfberry, ginseng-antler, safflower, etc. This craft is well documented historically with many ancient books describing the art. There seems to be no end to the tonic brewing abilities of the Chinese people, made possible primarily thanks to Baijiu.
Baijiu is responsible for countless classical poems, plays and songs throughout the rich history of Chinese culture. Drinking in moderation is the key to genuinely enjoying the experience. It makes our hearts rejoice and acts as a tool for building friendships and remembering our past. A little ‘wet dog’ never killed a man. Enjoy some Baijiu with your friends.