China’s most pop­u­lar tip­ple come to South Africa

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - FOOD AND DRINK - WENDYL MARTIN

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’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

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