It’s the world’s most heavily consumed spirit and has a history that dates back over 5,000 years – yet many Western drinkers haven’t even heard of baijiu. Even though there are 6,000 distilleries in China making 8 billion litres of baijiu in a year, very little of that liquid gets exported. That’s a real shame, since China’s national drink is known for its fragrant and complex aromas and layers. The good news, though, is that exports are on the rise – so it’s a good time to get better acquainted with what the best examples of baijiu can offer drink lovers.
Baijiu (meaning ‘white liquor’) is made by hand and by cooking up a variety of grains (including wheat, corn and rice) before blending with a starter culture known as qu. This mixture is then left to ferment in water – and this process can take anywhere between five and 50 years. The resulting flavours can be floral and fruity, and baijiu is often consumed, like wine, with a meal – although it can also be enjoyed as a shot.
However, various fermentation and maturation methods can mean that baijiu styles vary wildly. There are three main varieties to consider, covering a real breadth of flavour: light aroma, strong aroma and sauce aroma. Really, this is just scratching the surface, and there’s plenty more to learn about how baijiu tastes – but if you’re ready to get stuck in, there were some great examples of the spirit on show at this year’s IWSC.
Scoring a very impressive 99 points was Kweichow Guoma Distillery’s G15 Baijiu, a sauce-aroma baiju, with ‘a lovely nutty character’ from baked sesame to fresh peanut aromas,’ according to the IWSC judges. Also scoring a Gold medal, but on the strong-aroma side of things, was Sichuan Yibin Zhuhai Baijiu’s Pingchuyuanjiu, with a pronounced earthy character and herbal and sweet fruit notes on the palate. For those keen to explore light-aroma baijiu, there was Junhao Baijiu, which judges praised for its ‘entrancing flavours of moist sour fruits, fresh mint, savoury mushroom, delectable biscuit, rich cocoa and sesame.’
Each of the below were judged by an expert industry panel, and each of these bottles and their tasting notes helps paint the broader picture of a drink offering plenty of complexity and nuance. Read on for the 12 best baijiu bottles from the IWSC 2022.
HOW DO WE JUDGE THESE SPIRITS?
We run a tightly structured, rigorous spirits tasting process. That means that each spirit sample is pre-poured into numbered glasses and assessed blindly by the judges. Most importantly, our IWSC spirit judges are experts in their field, who work across all sectors of the drinks industry. For evidence, see our full list of judges.
HOW DO WE SCORE THESE SPIRITS?
Only the best spirits sampled receive a Gold or Silver award. For example, to win Gold, spirits have to score between 95 and 100 points. Meanwhile, Silver wines range from 90 to 94 points. Click here to read more on our scoring system.
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