The Most Popular Spirit in the World is Chinese Firewater Baijiu -- And It May Be Coming To The States
A glass and bottle of Jiugui, a brand of baijiu.
According to data from International Wine and Spirit Research, Chinese people drank over 11 billion liters of baijiu last year, making it the most consumed liquor in the world, Reutrers reports. Baiju, for those unfamiliar with the booze, is a distilled alcoholic beverage made (usually) from sorghum. It's generally about 40-60% alcohol by volume -- in other words, really strong.
And though it's been the drink of choice in China since like, forever, you probably haven't heard of it before because outside of China there's very little market for the stuff mainly due to the fact that it apparently tastes and smells like paint thinner.
But times, they might be changing.
Baiju makers are concerned they might lose a large share of the Chinese market as younger generations of drinkers branch out to liquors that don't taste like gasoline. Their preemptively looking to the West to help combat the losses they foresee and are hopeful Americans can develop a palate for baiju.
They're basing that idea on the fact that tequilla, another liquor with a very unique taste, has been wildly successful in the U.S. market. With some re-branding magic and a few great cocktail recipes, baiju distributors think they can turn this Chinese firewater into the hot new thing.
Of course, there are those who doubt that's really possible.
"I thought it tasted like paint-thinner and felt like a liquid lobotomy," Michael Pareles, manager at the U.S. Meat Export Federation in Beijing told Reuters.
Others have said it has a fuel-like aftertaste and are concerned it won't work well into the American-style of drinking, which goes something like, "getting really drunk on an empty stomach." (In China baiju is usually consumed with food.) Some think the drink might be marketable to Chinese ex-pats who currently have to get their firewater from duty-free stores at airports -- which, we imagine, is not at all convenient.
One company, Byejoe USA, says they've been successful selling baiju in the states by importing baijiu base from China and re-filtering it to make it more pleasant for American palettes. In other words, watch out tequilla. They're coming to get you.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Phoenix dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.