Life

Get into the spirit of Chinese New Year with 6,000-year-old drink

In honour of Chinese New Year today, there's no better time to become acquainted with China's national spirit

Fenjiu blue Flower – Qinghua baijiu. Fenjiu is the oldest Chinese producer of baijiu, a drink with more than 6,000 years of history

AN ANCIENT white spirit that really does have all the bells and whistles, baijiu is the national spirit of China, and the best-selling liquor on the planet. And while it's rare in the West, it was recently cited by the International Wine & Spirits Competition as a spirit trend to watch.

:: What is it?

Baijiu is a distilled white spirit made from grains. Different producers from all over China use different grains and employ a range of techniques during production, resulting in a range of styles of baijiu.

:: What are the different styles?

Most often a grain called sorghum is used. Twelve different baijiu categories, based on their aroma, are officially recognised, with the four key styles being Light Aroma, Sauce Aroma, Rice Aroma and Strong Aroma.

:: How old is it?

One producer known for its premium quality Light Aroma Baijiu range is Fenjiu. It is the oldest Chinese producer of baijiu, a drink which has more than 6,000 years of history. Based in Fenyang city, in the Shanxi province of Northern China, Fenjiu use organic sorghum and pure spring water to make their baijiu.

:: How is it made?

First, the organic sorghum is ground, then cooked in water, stirred and cooled. Then the cooked sorghum is mixed with a Chinese starter culture called DAQU, which is made from barley, peas and water. Next, the mixture is transferred to clay pots for fermentation for at least one month.

After fermentation, the mixture is distilled in a stainless-steel still by heating, creating a steam which cools to form the alcoholic liquid. This is then graded and blended, and matured for between one and 50 years in ceramic jars. The jars are stored underground for a stable environment, where the liquid then breathes, interacting with oxygen and developing its flavour with time.

:: What does it taste like?

Fenjiu baijius all have their own characteristics, with a common theme of the range being a spectrum of intense fruit, floral, honey, fresh herbal and umami aromas and flavours, with an attractive smoky or spicy top note and a long, lingering finish. Traditionally drunk neat, the spirit is also a brilliant building block for cocktails.

:: The Fenjiu Baijiu range is available at Harrods, priced from £60 (50cl) to £160 (50cl).

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