News / Asia

Move Over Tequila, Here Comes Chinese Firewater

Bottles of Sichuan Swellfun baijiu at promotional event, Beijing, Oct. 2, 2011.
Bottles of Sichuan Swellfun baijiu at promotional event, Beijing, Oct. 2, 2011.
Reuters
— Chinese baijiu, a flammable, pungent white liquor averaging a 110-proof wallop, is the world's most consumed form of liquor thanks to its popularity in China, but for the first time distillers are looking to develop export markets.
 
According to data from International Wine & Spirit Research, Chinese people drank over 11 billion liters of baijiu in 2012; the spirit, distilled from sorghum, wheat or rice, accounted for more than one-third of all spirits consumed in the world.
 
But as a new generation of Chinese drinkers discovers the imported spirits that were unavailable to their parents, baijiu risks losing that market share unless it creates new markets overseas.
 
"Baijiu hasn't been marketed to the West yet but I think it can be," said James Rice, managing director of Sichuan Swellfun Co. Ltd., a baijiu maker in Chengdu, western China, in which London-based beverage multinational Diageo has taken a sizeable stake.

"People are interested in China and here's a piece of Chinese culture that can go right to your dinner table."
 
The opportunity has also attracted small entrepreneurs like David Zhou, who founded Everest Spirits LLC in the Washington D.C. metro area to import a Chinese baijiu and rebrand it for sale locally.
 
"We really want to go for mainstream U.S. consumers and we do believe they can accept it."
 
But Rice, and other distillers, has to deal with a major challenge: baijiu tends to make a terrible first impression.
 
"I thought it tasted like paint-thinner and felt like a liquid lobotomy," said Michael Pareles, manager at the U.S. Meat Export Federation in Beijing. "However, like many other things in China, I eventually grew to like it."
 
Torsten Stocker, head of Greater China consumer practice at Monitor Group in Hong Kong, was skeptical about prospects for overseas expansion.
 
But he suggested the liquor could be better distributed to the swelling overseas Chinese community, which now depends on duty-free stores in airports to stay stocked.
 
Baijiu's punch makes it a tough sell in Western bar culture where people drink on an empty stomach. So does its fuel-like odor and its aftertaste. But the history of alcoholic beverages shows that nearly any taste can be acquired.
 
"Tequila has a very unusual flavor compared to more popular spirits," said Derek Sandhaus, industry consultant and author of a forthcoming book on baijiu appreciation.
 
"But through clever marketing, good cocktails, and good management, it's earned a place on the bar shelf. I see no reason why the world's most popular spirit can't do the same."
 
Making the adjustment

But an adjustment is still probably necessary.
 
Matt Trusch, a former China resident, founded a distillery called Byejoe USA that imports baijiu base from China, then re-filters it to make it more drinkable.
 
"We've made it much more palatable to American tastes."
 
Vinn Distilleries in Portland, Oregon, founded by a family of ethnic Chinese immigrants from Vietnam, is reproducing a generation-old baijiu recipe, and Vinn president Michelle Ly has marketed it — in very small volumes — to non-Chinese consumers.
 
Curiously enough, she said a group of investors had approached her with an idea to export her U.S.-made baijiu back to China, advertising it as a product of high quality control — an issue domestic baijiu brands have struggled with.
 
Baijiu expert Sandhaus thinks the best avenue for developing drinkers overseas is to follow the model of Japanese sake and market baijiu as the alcohol to drink with Chinese food. But he added that there is no need for distillers to rush.
 
"It will still be a very long time before baijiu stops being a very lucrative business in China."

You May Like

Mali's Female Basketball Players Rebound After Islamist Occupation

Islamist extremists ruled northern Mali for most of 2012, imposing strict Sharia law, and now some 18 months later, the region is slowly getting back on its feet More

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

Many Chinese-made products go unsold, for now, with numerous Vietnamese consumers still angry over recent dispute More

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid