4 awesome Asian spirits you need to try

Learn how to tell your baijiu from your sake and soju

When it comes to spirits, it’s worth looking across borders for your alcoholic hit. While China’s weak ‘n’ watery Snow beer is the world’s most popular pijiu, thanks to a formidable level of consumption over in Russia, luckily, our spirits pack a more serious punch. Get your fix of Asia’s finest, all available in Beijing.


Distilled spirit


What’s in the bottle? Shochu is a Japanese distilled clear spirit. Similar to vodka and whiskey, it tends to pack more of a punch than brewed spirits. The alcohol by volume falls between 15-25 percent. Shochu can be made from almost anything with a high starch content. Modern distilleries use barley, sweet potatoes, rice, buckwheat, brown sugar, chestnuts and even carrots.

How is it made? A pulp of the starch is fermented with water and specially selected moulds, distilled, then diluted with sugar and water to the desired alcohol content. Shochu is not usually aged for more than a few years. One notable exception is the southern Okinawan variety, Awamori, which can be aged from ten to over 100 years.

Where to try? Try the Asian State (88RMB), a light, nutty cocktail at modern rooftop bar restaurant Unico.


Brewed rice wine


What’s in the bottle? All sake are made from rice that is tougher and higher in starch than the average. The highest quality sake are pure rice and use highly polished grains.

How is it made? Sake is considered a wine, but it’s brewed to render alcohol from the starch, making it technically more of a beer. It’s brewed through multiple fermentations, turning the starch into sugar then alcohol.

Where to try? Pick your poison at Japanese fine dining joint Yotsuba.


White spirit


What’s in the bottle? The Chinese spirit is the most widely consumed alcoholic beverage in the world. There are four groups of baijiu: strong, light, sauce or rice. Sauce has a strong flavour reminiscent of fermented soy sauce. Light baijiu tend to be drier, with a cleaner mouth feel. Rice is perhaps the oldest variety. It has a mellow flavour and aroma.

How is it made? Baijiu is distilled from sorghum and gets its high alcohol content from a double semi-solid fermentation process. The most common baijiu in Beijing, Erguotou, is fermented in large earthenware jars before distillation. Several iterations of the fermentation process give Erguotou its signature strong flavour and pungent aroma.

Where to try? Try a tasting flight at baijiu bar Capital Spirits and The Distillery.


Rice wine


What’s in the bottle? Mijiu is Chinese rice wine. Brewed rather than distilled, its main ingredients are rice, water and yeast. The alcohol content is also similar to sake, usually hovering between 11-18 percent, with some stronger brews making it up to 25 percent. The beverage is so simple to make it’s often produced at home rather than bought in shops.

How is it made? The glutinous rice is washed and cooked with water, mashed into a slurry and recooked. After fermentation, mijiu can be filtered and aged in wood, which gives it a golden colour and a more complex flavour, but most home brews skip this step. Home brews have a milky colour and sweet floral finish with a lower alcohol content.

Where to try? Rose-infused wine (98RMB) at Nuoyan Rice Wine Bar.

Read more

  • 4 out of 5 stars