Bai­jiu: A Lit­tle ‘Wet Dog’ Never Killed a Man

Special Focus - - Contents - James Henry

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.

Medic­i­nalM con­coc­tions:

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.

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