Baijiu, the world’s most widely consumed spirit, divides opinion. A staple of any business meal or celebration in China, where complex etiquette about who drinks when often means everyone drinks lots, the grain-based liquor has a lot to answer for.
In recent years, baijiu has had something of a hipster revival; it’s not uncommon these days to see it listed as a cocktail ingredient in Beijing, as well as being drunk neat by both the broke and the ballin’.
Starting as low as 3RMB for a bottle clocking in at 40 percent, you’re less playing with fire and more jumping naked into the roaring heat of the flames. But if jump you must, here’s our round-up of the best – or least bad – that pocket money can buy.
Niulanshan (牛栏山), 38 percent
This little bottle of moonshine is a pocket companion that guarantees fun for all the family, clocking in at a child-friendly 38 percent proof. One of our testers welcomed the fact that 'at least it tastes of something that isn’t just suffering'. 5/10. 6.5RMB for 125ml.
Niulanshan (牛栏山), 56 percent
For an extra 0.3RMB, you can supercharge your Niulanshan by a further 18 percent, taking your baijiu well and truly into the paint stripper department. You also, mind-bogglingly, get a lethal 200ml of the stuff; less than a mouthful will leave you with severe alcohol sweats. 'A bit like tequila,' reckons one tester. 1/10. 6.8RMB for 200ml.
Hongxing Lanping (红星蓝瓶), 43 percent
The blue-bottled baijiu is the prestige option in the 7-11 milieu. At 11.5RMB, this little fighter is 70 percent more expensive than its closest neighbour in price, and about 25 percent weaker in the alcohol department. One for the discerning problem drinker. 5/10. 11.5RMB for 150ml.
Hongxing (红星二锅头), 56 percent
If you’re a nervous flyer, this travel-sized bottle of B is small enough to take on the aeroplane in your hand luggage and strong enough to knock you out for the whole journey and then some. We like the vintage-style green glass bottle and the retro label – truthfully, we like pretty much everything at this point. 3/10. 5.8RMB for 100ml.
A classier cocktail
Serious about your baijiu
? David Putney, partner at Capital Spirits
mixology expert, shares his tips on how to do it properly.
What’s the best way to do baijiu on a budget?
Anything below 80RMB a bottle is likely to be factory-made and flavoured with chemicals. Yes it will get you drunk, but you’ll regret it. You don’t have to spend 2,000RMB, but it’s worth getting something that’s good quality. If you are going to mix the cheap stuff, stronger citrus juices such as grapefruit can work.
That said, if you’re ever travelling in the Chinese countryside, you can often find home-produced baijiu, which can be very good. When you’re far away from Beijing and not in a 7-11, the low price doesn’t necessarily mean poorer quality.
What are your favourite baijiu cocktails?
At Capital Spirits and The Distillery, we have the Paper Crane, which is a strong aroma baijiu with Aperol and Amaro. Then there’s also the Maotai coco cream, which uses Maotai baijiu, coconut cream and chocolate liqueur. It’s a sweeter flavour whilst still having that baijiu bite.