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Baijiu, or shaojiu is a Chinese distilled alcoholic beverage. The name baijiu literally means white liquor, white alcohole or white spirits. Baijiu is often mistakenly translated as wine or white wine, but it is actually a distilled liquor, generally about 80 to 120 proof, or 40-60% alcohol by volume.


At the time that ancestors of Chinese people started living in communities along the Yellow River valley, the plantation of various kinds of grain laid the foundation for making wines and alcohol.

Some scholars believe that the technique of making Chinese liquor originated in the Xia Dynasty (c.2100 BC-c.1600 BC). Historical records list Yi Di and Du Kang as the founding fathers of making liquor professionally.

According to historical records, Yi Di made great efforts to make mellow wine with fermented glutinous rice. Du Kang, living in the Xia Dyanasty, is credited with making top-notch liquor with Chinese sorghum beans. According to historical legends, Du Kang stored some cooked Chinese sorghum seeds inside a hollow tree stump on a winter day. In the spring of the following year, a fragrant aroma wafted from the tree stump into the nostrils of Du Kang. Afterwards, Du Kang found that it was the fermented sorghum seeds which gave off the alluring fragrance. This accidental discovery gave rise to his inspiration of making liquor with fermented sorghum seeds.


There are a number of accounts in English which comment unfavorably on the taste of baijiu, comparing it with rubbing alcohol or diesel fuel. The author Tim Clissold, who writes frequently on China, noted that he'd 'never met anybody, even at the heights of alcoholic derangement, prepared to admit that they actually liked the taste', and that 'after drinking it, most people screw up their faces in an involuntary expression of pain and some even yell out.'


According to its fragrance, Baijiu can be classified into 6 different categories.

'Sauce' fragrance: A highly fragrant distilled liquor of bold character. To the Western palate, sauce fragrance baijiu can be quite challenging. It has solvent and barnyard aromas, with the former, in combination with the ethanol in the liquor, imparting a sharp ammonia-like note. It has been described as stinky tofu crossed with grappa. To the initiated, it is quite delicious and is considered the perfect complement for fine preserved and pickled foods. This class is also referred to as 'Mao xiang', after the best known wine of this class, Maotai.

Heavy/thick fragrance: A class of distilled liquor that is sweet tasting, unctuous in texture, and mellow, with a gentle lasting fragrance contributed by the high levels of esters, primarily ethyl acetate. Most liquors of this class are made using Aspergillus type starters. Example of this type of liquor is Five Grains Liquid of Yibin.

Light fragrance: Delicate, dry, and light, with a delectable mellow and clean mouthfeel. The flavours of this distilled liquor is contributed primarily by ethyl acetate and ethyl lactate. An example of this kind of liquor is Fen jiu of Shanxi.

Rice fragrance: The character of this class of wine is exemplified by baijiu distilled from rice, such as Tri-Flower Liquor of Guilin. This type of wine has long history and is made using Rhizopus spp. type starters 'Small starter'. It has a clean mouthfeel and is slightly aromatic aroma, dominated by ethyl lactate with lesser flavour contributions by ethyl acetate.

Honey fragrance: A class of distilled liquor with the fragrance of honey. Liquors of this class are subtle in flavour and sweet in taste.

Layered fragrance: A class of distilled liquors that contain the characters of 'Sauce', Heavy, and Light fragrance distilled liquors. As such, liquors of this class vary widely in their aroma, mouthfeel, and dryness. An example of this type of liquor is Xifeng Jiu, produced in Fengxiang County of Shaanxi.


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