A Salute to Baijiu, Part One: One Reason for Baijiu Being the Draught of Satan

It’s high time that someone wrote something substantial about baijiu. Perhaps they already have, and I’m not aware of it. If so, then it’s high time I wrote something substantial about baijiu. I thought about this the other day when two of my classmates and I took our adviser out for dinner. This always–and I do mean ALWAYS–means the presence of baijiu, though this time I went determined not to drink too much, so I told them I hadn’t been feeling well, which is usually an ironclad excuse not to have to drink. It was mostly a lie, too, though if you’ve had baijiu before, and especially if you’ve had too much baijiu before, you won’t blame me a bit for looking for any excuse not to drink any. If you lived in a country where the drink of choice at official dinners was toilet water, you’d look for an excuse, too. I sat at dinner, then, with the one tiny shot glass I’d agreed to consume (I eventually drank three, but for that, see my later entry: “How to Look Like a Hero When There is Bajiiu on the Table.”) and, because the dinner was, as official dinners go, very laid-back, I pondered writing something about China’s beast of a beverage.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll be writing a few blog entries on baijiu, so I’d like to begin by saying, for those who have no idea what I’m talking about, what baijiu is. Baijiu is alcohol. That I can say for sure. It is also, and I will brook no discussion on this point, the foulest thing ever brewed and willingly consumed by humanity. I say “willingly” because I believe baijiu to be the border between consumable substance and poison. Someone who’s been forced to drink, say, a beaker full of liquid rubber might be able to claim he or she has had something worse than baijiu (and even then I’m not sure), but it is only in the realm of medically-objectionable substances that baijiu has any competitor. There are a few reasons for this. First, baijiu is typically VERY strong. If you go to an official dinner, and if your hosts are fairly traditional and/or wealthy, you will probably be served something in the 100 proof class. And somehow, 100 or 90 proof baijiu manages to feel more like 130 or 140 proof. Maybe it is, too. We all know how many other statistics in China are actually far more advanced than they’re printed to be. With baijiu, it’s not just subjective impression, either. I offer up the following story as evidence.

My friend Lonnie took a few bottles of cheap Er Guo Tou back to the States once, just to give some of his friends a “real China experience.” Personally, I love serving baijiu to friends and family Stateside, because there are few things funnier than watching someone drink baijiu for the first time. The only thing I can compare it to is the first time my nephew ate refried beans. His face scrunched up as though he’d just swallowed a forkful of manure, and he began slowly, methodically spitting the entire consignment back up. Were it not for the fact that spewing alcohol at dinner is a no-no even among friends, adults would do the same thing with baijiu. I served it once to some relatives at a birthday party for my grandmother, and my aunt, after taking a sip and making the refried-beans-face, said, “This tastes like a mistake!” Well-said. If you’re a China ex-pat and haven’t served your friends and family baijiu, do it. Anyway, back to Lonnie. His friends were keen to try Er Guo Tou, not knowing that the little green bottles Lonnie had brought with him cost roughly 4 RMB (about 60 cents) in any local store, making them the true gut-rot of the Asian world. Lonnie set several glasses on his friend’s coffee table and began carefully pouring some baijiu into each one. When he got to the last glass, though, he accidentally spilled some baijiu over the side. He went into the kitchen to get some paper towels, and by the time he’d gotten back and lifted up the cup, the baijiu had eaten a cup-shaped hole through the lacquer on his friend’s table. Cheers, everyone.



3 Responses to A Salute to Baijiu, Part One: One Reason for Baijiu Being the Draught of Satan

  1. james says:

    Check this site for substantive baijiu info. It’s great.


  2. Lee says:

    I was first given some baiju at a Chinese friend’s apartment in New Jersey. It was in a paper cup, which seemed to be dissolving.

    As a teacher in China I bought a little bottle to use as a solvent, e.g., whiteboard cleaner (for when someone accidentally uses a permanent marker), or to get ink off desks before an exam.

    If I remember correctly, the contents of a small bottle burns for about seventeen minutes (in the bottle – obviously less when poured into something shallow like a saucer before lighting). Alternatively, I suppose people drink it to keep warm.

  3. Lee says:

    An important tip for a complete novice is not to be duped by a literal translation of baijiu as “white wine”. If a Chinese person asks if you would like some “white wine”, verify that the beverage was made from grapes; otherwise, you will probably get something more like “white lightning” when you were expecting a riesling or chardonnay.

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