China’s most popular tipple come to South Africa
AS I write this, I struggle to see how the Chinese spirit will sell in South Africa.
“It’s about the lifestyle,” said Artscape chief chief executive Marlene le Roux at the South African launch of Kwenchoi Moutai at the CTICC.
A brand of Chinese liquor baiju (a vodka of sorts), Kweichoi Moutai is drunk by millions.
The producer is the world’s most valuable liquor company, knocking Johnnie Walker producer Diageo from top spot.
The company claims Kweichoi Moutai is “the No 1 distilled liqour brand with the highest capitalisation in the world”.
And the product isn’t cheap. Reuters reports it can cost more than $300 a bottle (R4 170).
In 2014, a 500ml bottle went on sale for R3 000 negotiable, complete with goblet-like shot glasses used to serve the drink, on wine.co.za’s classifieds.
Little is known about Moutai’s distribution channels in South Africa, nothing of which was presented at the glamorous brand launch that then moved to Namibia and Mozambique.
What stood before us at the sampling was a clear liquid akin to vodka in viscosity and appearance.
A journalist from a Chinese publication reached out and cracked open the sealed bottle and seamlessly poured the liquid into a little glass jug.
A pungent aroma immediately whacked me. I am an explorer, so I was curious to sample anyway.
I asked her what it was made of and surprisingly, she couldn’t say off hand.
It turns it is made from fermented sorghum grain in the town of Maotai in the Guizhou province at a state-run brewery.
The journalist poured from the jug into the little goblets and said, “kampei”, which loosely translates to “bottoms up”.
“Am I supposed to drink this like a shot?” I asked, not wanting to do something impolite in front of the Chinese hosts.
“You should, but no one will mind if you don’t,” she said with a smile.
Down it went.
I could immediately taste the sour sorghum, which chimed with the pungent smell of fermented grain.
A burning sensation grabbed my chest moments later.
With its alcohol volume of
53%, I could see why it is sold in smaller bottles than is usual for spirits.
I like a good dose of alcohol from time to time, so I continued to take a few shots, for the kick of the experience.
Earlier at the function, the hosts had attempted to mix cocktails with Moutai, including a version of a Screwdriver with orange juice. This was my first whiff of Moutai, but I gave the cocktails a miss, worried I would rather have my first sample neat.
Later as the journalist walked from chair to chair offering us Moutai from the pouring jug, something struck me.
Perhaps this is what Le Roux mentioned earlier, part of a different lifestyle?
This is quite different from the way we offer alcohol. Vodka and gin, taken in larger amounts with mixers and shots, are never poured and shared this elegantly.
This seemed part of a dinner culture, something that is shared by people at a table like a loaf of bread or a bottle of wine, but taken simultaneously.
I wait to see if Moutai makes its way onto local shelves.
Kwenchoi Moutai. Picture: Sarene Kloren