Baijiu (pronounced “bye-joe”) is China’s national spirit. Shui Jing Fang Red Fortune is released by spirits giant Diageo. The red bottle is said to be marked with the Gingko sign, the symbol of Chengdu, which is an ancient capital of China.
Nose: The bouquet on this powerhouse is as aromatic and pungent as they come, with loads of sweet anise seed, licorice, hard plum candy, and sickly sweet herbal cough syrup with the smell of a farmyard, mixed aged cheeses and old vegetables tainting what is otherwise a sweet smelling spirit. The glass, once empty, smells of smoked tea, old cheddar and stale tobacco.
Taste: Intense. The over the top anise seed sickly sweet character is almost too much to bear. Then more of the grain shines through with a hay-like farmyard earthy taste. There is some peach and pickled onions. This is seriously complex spirit. Is that a waxed box with decaying fruit I taste?
Overall: Most westerners will likely not enjoy their first taste of baijiu. The process of making baijiu creates flavours that many westerners may not have come to understand and appreciate. These flavours will probably taste strange.
But, it is common to dislike the taste of foods and drinks which we have not encountered before (think of your first taste of blue vein cheese, Vegemite, liver pate, sashimi, or perhaps even your first sip of a neat Islay single malt whisky). Tastes are often cultivated over time. So, for those who are unfamiliar with the aroma and flavour profile of baijiu, be patient when exploring this spirit.
With an aroma and flavour that is really out-of-the-box for the western palate, baijiu serves as an interesting reminder of just how diverse tastes can be across cultures. For the adventurous, grappling and embracing culturally unfamiliar flavours such as those found in baijiu may be what the journey is about. What is clear, though, is that baijiu seems to be an acquired taste! If you can, try it before you buy.