For a sorghum kick
Chinese baijiu comes to Mumbai and it's not for amateurs. But if you are a serious drinker, it could become a good addition to your repertoire
Traditionally, the Chinese serve baijiu neat and at room temperature. It's usually poured into small cups or glasses. For us, a 60 ml shot is served with a big ball of frozen ice in a medium-sized glass. We get a whiff of the alcohol that the sommelier places on the bar top. It's clear and can be mistaken for vodka. When we are told it has an alcohol content of between 38 per cent and 50 per cent, we look at it with wary eyes. It's a work day.
We are trying the Jangxiaobai Pure, the first premium baijiu to launch in India, currently only available at Bandra's Hakkasan. The bar is dimly-lit and offers a fitting ambience. We are trying to place the aroma of the baijiu, often considered the equivalent of Japan's sake. We think ripe fruit. But, research reveals that it is made by fermenting grain or rice in earthern pits for months, has the aroma of tropical fruit, especially pineapple, banana and guava, and an earthy cheese-like note.
Documentation says that the first time the spirit was made in a workshop was during the Ming dynasty, in the 16th century, but it could have been made and drunk as early as the 13th century even.
The baijiu that we are served has been made on the banks of the Yangtze River in a distillery where the selenium-rich soil is planted with high-quality sorghum. All sorghum produced here is used for making this spirit.
We take a long whiff, and hold our heart to dive in. At first sip, it's not as strong as we thought. But then it hits the back of the throat and comes across as spicy. We realise that it could take us a few hours to get through the glass, although we are told that most Chinese prefer to knock it down as is, from brimming glasses.
Next, we try it in a cocktail. The sommelier makes us a pink mix of pomegranate, gin and barely 5 ml of baijiu. But, it manages to overtake all other flavours. We pair it with edamame dumplings, eggplant and tofu curry, and hakka noodles. It tastes fresh and uncomplicated, with a distinct clear flavour.
Would we recommend it? Yes. The experienced and adventurous drinker will take to it right away, while the novice will need to work at it. It's an acquired taste, but one that you could eventually quite get used to.
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