An American discovering the world of Chinese liquor

Taste: Byejoe dragon fire

by bb

Aroma: Sweet

Horsiness: 1 horse (out of 5)

Burn: 1 flame (out of 5)

Bought at: You can find places to buy it at byejoe.com

Tasting notes:

(Disclaimer: I tasted byejoe red and byejoe dragon fire at an open bar event that they sponsored.)

This is byejoe’s entry into the flavored spirits world. I understand that it’s selling better than byejoe red, and having tasted it, I’m not surprised. Not because it’s better, but because the “baijiu-ness” of it is muted by the added flavors, making a liquor that’s probably more accessible to the American palate.

To be honest, I don’t know what dragon fruit tastes like, so I don’t know how much that added to the flavor profile. For me, the predominant flavor was one of lychee, with a bit of hot chili. It’s a little sweet, but not sickly sweet like some of the flavored vodkas are, or even as sweet as some other baijius I could name.

The smell, similarly, is primarily lychee–I couldn’t pick out the horsiness that I expect from a baijiu.

This is a tasty spicy lychee liquor. It’s not terribly baijiu-y, but it’s good on its own merits.


Taste: Michiutou

by bb

Aroma: Light

Horsiness: 1 horse (out of 5)

Burn: 2 flames (out of 5)

Bought at: Gum Wing Lee Luquors, (Chinatown, San Francisco)

Tasting notes:

This is Taiwanese, and only 35% alcohol, so I don’t know if it’s technically a baijiu. Perhaps not, since the label only says it’s made from rice, and baijiu is usually predominantly sorghum. Nonetheless, it’s a Chinese liquor, so I’ll go ahead and write it up.

The smell has none of the baijiu horse barn in it. It smells faintly smoky, like an Islay scotch (but less so). It doesn’t have a lot of complexity to its flavor. Maybe because I was expecting a baijiu, but I was disappointed with the taste of this one. It tastes watery, with a very light mouthfeel. The only significant flavor is the smoke, which comes back in the aftertaste.

There’s a little bit of a burn, enough to be pleasant without being overwhelming.

I imagine this would mix well–it would add a nice bit of smoke to a cocktail–but it’s not too interesting to drink on its own.


Taste: Byejoe Red

by bb

Aroma: Light

Horsiness: 2 horses (out of 5)

Burn: 2 flames (out of 5)

Bought at: You can find places to buy it at byejoe.com

Tasting notes:

(Disclaimer: I tasted byejoe Red and byejoe Dragon Fire at an open bar event that they sponsored.)

I’ve been talking with the byejoe people on Twitter for a while now. They’re trying to bring baijiu to the US by making a baijiu that’s more suited to the American palate. I was both intrigued and skeptical. I’m all about bringing baijiu to the US–that’s what this blog is here for. But I was concerned that in the process of making a baijiu that was more suited to the American palate, they’d lose what makes baijiu great, that it would end up more like vodka. (Vodka in Russia is delicious. Vodkas in the US are totally flavorless.)

I needn’t have worried. My first sniff of byejoe Red confirmed that it’s still very much a baijiu. It doesn’t have a ton of horsiness, but there was enough to give me confidence that it wasn’t going to taste like vodka.

It’s tasty on the tongue. Not super-complex, but there are some interesting flavors there, including notes of mint and chocolate.

There’s some burn on the back end. It’s only 40% alcohol, in keeping with American liquors, but they preserved a bit of fire.

This is a nice entry-level baijiu. It won’t replace Wulangye for me, but it’s not trying to. It’s accessible, and has enough of the complexity of baijiu that it will hopefully encourage people to discover the world of Chinese liquor. And it works well in cocktails.


Taste: Imperial Lotus White

by bb

Aroma: Sweet

Horsiness: 1 horse (out of 5)

Burn: 3 flames (out of 5)

Bought at: Gum Wing Lee Luquors, (Chinatown, San Francisco)

Tasting notes:

This is a very different baijiu from the other ones I’ve tasted. The one hit I was able to find about it on Google says that it’s infused with 20 medicinal herbs, which helps explain it. It doesn’t really taste like baijiu at all, honestly.

The smell is sweet, and a little smoky–a bit like smelling a bottle of barbecue sauce.

The taste is incredibly sweet, and very herbal and floral. I don’t know if there’s actual lotus in there, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were. There’s a lingering medicinal taste to it, and a fair amount of burn that only really pops up at the end. The smokiness I found in the smell is absent from the taste–I think the sweetness overwhelms it.

Bottles like this are part of the reason I do this blog. If you walked into a store, without any knowledge of the category, you wouldn’t have any way of distinguishing this from, say, the Red Star, and the English-language Internet would be of no help. But they’re utterly different. I hope that this blog helps other people choose between the varieties.


Taste: Wuliang Chun Jiu

by bb

Aroma: I’m guessing Strong

Horsiness: 3 horses (out of 5)

Burn: 5 flames (out of 5)

Bought at: Truong Thanh Liquors, (Chinatown, Boston)

Tasting notes:

This is a stinky one. Don’t let the three horse rating mislead you–it’s not a particularly horsey smell, but it’s a strong smell. Smells sour, and maybe faintly rotten.

The initial taste is where the horsiness really hits. Also sour apple, and a truly intense burn. At 50% alcohol, it’s not the strongest baijiu I’ve tasted, but it’s one of the burniest.

The aftertaste is sharp, sour, and continues to burn.

I bought this because I loved an earlier Wuliangye (it’s still my favorite baijiu…if only it weren’t so expensive!), and this was a cheaper product from the same company. Well, I guess it’s cheaper for a reason. It has some of the complexity of the other bottle, but it’s harsher, and the flavors don’t work as well together, if that makes any sense.

As an interesting side note, I was looking online to see if there was any pre-existing information about this baijiu, and found a restaurant in New Jersey that has baijiu on the menu! At hugely marked-up prices, but still, I’ve never before seen that in a US restaurant.


Baijiu on the Radio

by bb

Check this out: I’m the subject of an online radio piece, all about this blog and my quest to fill the “hole in the Internet” that is the lack of English-language information on baijiu brands.


Taste: Confucius Family Liquor

by bb

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Aroma: Unknown

Horsiness: 1 horse (out of 5)

Burn: 3 flames (out of 5)

Bought at: A liquor store in Washington DC that I unfortunately forgot to bookmark

Tasting notes:

Confucius Family Liquor turns out to be a whole baijiu company, not a single variety of baijiu, so labeling this tasting the way I have is somewhat misleading. Unfortunately, it’s the only English on the bottle that looks like a name–if there’s something in the label that gives a specific product name, I can’t find it. So if my readers want to try it, look for it based on the photos above, I guess.

This baijiu has essentially no aroma at all, which is highly unusual. What aroma there is is horsy, but there’s very little of it.

My first thought on tasting it is that it tastes watery. That’s probably because it’s only 39% alcohol–perfectly normal for Western liquors, but very weak for baijiu. Given that, it’s surprising how strong the burn is. I wouldn’t have thought that a liquor could be both watery and firey at once, but there you are. Aside from those flavors, there isn’t a whole lot else going on. It’s simple, sweet, with maybe some unspecified fruit. No meaningful aftertaste, just a lingering burn.

I don’t recommend this one. Baijiu-haters will probably find it too baijiu-ish for them, and I don’t find it baijiu-ish enough.


Pink Baijiu

by bb

A comment on a previous post inspired me to try making baijiu-ified versions of classic cocktails. I’ve finally gotten around to trying it, starting with one of my favorite “I’m feeling lazy, but I want a cocktail” cocktails, Pink Gin. This cocktail, which I discovered in an Agatha Christie book, is very simple: Take a triangular glass (I use stemless Martini glasses, but anything with a point works), put some Angostura bitters in it, swirl the bitters around until the inside of the glass is coated, then add gin and an ice cube.

For the baijiu version I used both Angostura and orange bitters, since I know already that baijiu likes citrus flavors. I used Red Star for the baijiu, because it mixes well. (It’s less densely flavored than many other baijius.)

And it’s delicious. The bitters add layers of flavor that work with the baijiu, not clash with it. Definitely recommend it.


Taste: Danfeng Batch

by bb

20130303-194929.jpgAroma: Unknown

Horsiness: 3 horses (out of 5)

Burn: 2 flames (out of 5)

Bought at: Somewhere in China

Tasting notes:

This is the most mysterious baijiu I’ve ever reviewed for this blog. A friend of my wife’s brought it back from China. He brought it to a party here in the US, and everyone at the party hated it, so when they found out I’m writing about baijiu they gave it to me. I don’t even know the real name of it–an acquaintance translated the characters on the bottle as “Danfeng Batch” for me, but I’m not sure if it has some name beyond that.

There is a definite, but not overpowering, horsiness in the nose. Less so than something like Wuliangye, but much more than Red Star–maybe it’s a mixed aroma, with a blend of strong and light? I’m not enough of an expert to do anything more than guess to that.

Initial taste is fairly smooth, with notes of apple and maybe a little chocolate. Aftertaste has a bit more of a burn, and tastes like citrus and cinnamon, with the chocolate hanging on as an undercurrent.

Very tasty. I must ask my wife’s friend to bring back more next time.


Taste: Red Star Er Guo Tou Jiu “Gift Bottle”

by bb

Aroma: Light

Horsiness: 1 horse (out of 5)

Burn: 2 flames (out of 5)

Bought at: Walker Liquors (Chinatown, NYC)

Tasting notes:

I bought this bottle on a shopkeeper’s recommendation, and only discovered when I got it home that it (at least, the English parts on it that I can read) appeared to be identical to the Red Star that I previously reviewed. I was worried that maybe it was the same stuff, just in a nice bottle. But then I noticed the alcohol content, which is 50% for this one and 56% for the other Red Star. So it’s not exactly the same. I don’t know if it’s a different batch, or a different formula, or what–once again, my inability to read Chinese lets me down. But it’s worth posting a taste anyway.

For the first time, I’ll comment on the presentation. This is a beautiful bottle of baijiu. It’s clearly meant for giving as a gift, not for drinking at home. The bottle itself is a black ceramic, and it was topped with a pretty little wrapper.

The baijiu itself is very similar to the previous Red Star. Little to no horsiness on the nose. Simple, clean taste, slightly sweet. No burn in the mouth, but a bit on the back end, as well as a hint of raisin.

I probably wouldn’t buy this again–it was a little more expensive than the Red Star in the regular bottle, and very similar in flavor. You’re clearly paying for the packaging. But it still wasn’t expensive, and the packaging is beautiful. If I had a friend who liked baijiu, I’d give it as a gift.


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