How This Laowai Fell in Love with the Baijiu

By Logan R. Brouse, August 9, 2018

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201703/logan.pngLogan R. Brouse, proprietor and mixologist of Logan’s Punch, has run bars and clubs in Shanghai for over eight years. In between hangovers, he puts pen to paper in his column for That's to record his pontifications on the drink industry.


It was a foggy day in San Francisco when I had my baijiu cherry popped at a place called Shanghai 1930 where I tended bar. The experience was so unique that I took to calling it the ‘Chinese Woooooooo-ha’ for its ability to dance like the devil across my lips. Soon after, I moved to Shanghai and wanted to know more. I was beginning to see this ancient Chinese liquor, and one of the world’s most consumed spirits, as one of my favorites, even though it is largely underappreciated in Western drink culture.

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Image by Cristina Ng/That's

I know you hate it, and I’ve heard all of your horror stories before, because you haven’t really lived in Shanghai (or China for that matter) until you’ve had a night out with the beauty known as baijiu. Your night out ended poorly and you want to forget the days when you used to eat cheap street noodles and go to Lawson’s Creek Parties. Sure, I get it, you remember when there was a Muse on the Bund and you know when Metro Line 13 was completed. Your days of showing up to birthday parties at Windows with a bottle of Family Mart’s cheapest baijiu are ancient history. 

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Image by Cristina Ng/That's

We’ve all heard the tales of laowai who go to business meetings, drink too much and ending up hating life – but what if I told you there was another option? A way to drink to the truth and learn a little about the strange and wonderful culture we’ve all found ourselves in…

Let’s take a trip together through the history of baijiu and find out why we should all learn to love this atom bomb. In the immortal words of Dr. Dre, “Sit back, relax, and strap on your seat belt,” because ‘you’ never been on a ride like this befo.’

"This majestic spirit should be served in a special shot glass and the taste brings to mind lychee or watermelon set on fire and left for Mad Max to find out in the desert."

Baijiu’s actually white wine made with sorghum, and the Baij that I know and love is the result of the final stage of the distillation process. Sorghum is defined as a wheat-based cereal with origins in the old world where it was cultivated, educated and domesticated long before it became the primary ingredient in this KTV party rocking libation. This means we have a grain that’s fermented, turned into a mash, and set up to ferment into the beautiful specialty known as baijiu, From there it’s pressed, bottled, and eventually delivered to you at a business dinner somewhere south of the Bund served warm or at room temp. You know it’s getting real in the room when these prized bottles pull up, skeert! skeert! like Bruce Wayne at a bar mitzvah. 

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Image by Cristina Ng/That's

Some nerds would call baijiu the Chris Brown of spirits, still famous but we can’t justify it anymore. But is that really fair?  Maybe it’s been the baijiu that’s been getting the bad rap all the time and we’ve never recognized it for the Pulitzer it deserves.

Let’s give baijiu its due as a uniquely Chinese celebratory spirit. I can happily say I’ve drunk the most Baij at friends’ weddings where the blushing brides and handsome grooms cemented their bonds with the shared experience of getting hammered, which is an obligatory Chinese cultural experience and part of why drinking baijiu is so damn fun.

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There are rules to follow, but if you follow them, the night is sure to end with a motley crew of newly acquired best friends. There are two kinds of baijiu detractors: the locals who associate this masterpiece of alcoholic engineering with a history going on 2,000 years with their drunk uncles and the expat that remembers being force fed the fiery spirit without completely understanding its cultural significance.

Then there are the confusing prices, ranging from RMB10 for my personal favorite, Er Guo To, to the more baller, Moutai (USD800). In this case, more expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better.

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Image by Cristina Ng/That's

Once you settle on a bottle, serve it according to tradition. This majestic spirit should be served in a special shot glass and the taste brings to mind lychee or watermelon set on fire and left for Mad Max to find out in the desert. Even so, it is alluring like the sweet song that calls out to young sailors, a song I’ve heard too many times to ignore. If you listen carefully you just might hear the voices calling your name, and you'll fall in love with the Baijiu too.

[Cover image by Cristina Ng/That's]


See more of Logan's columns here

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