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. Despite there being 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 – there’s never been a better time to get acquainted with what the best examples of baijiu can offer drink lovers.
Baijiu (meaning ‘white liquor’) is made by hand and by cooking 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 started, there were some great examples of the spirit on show at this year’s IWSC.
Scoring 98 points was Guiyagong Baijiu from Guiyahui, a sauce-aroma baiju with ‘generous umami aspects on the palate’ from mushroom to gravy, according to the IWSC judges. Also scoring a Gold medal, but on the strong-aroma side of things, was Xiaohutuxian Spirits Co., Rui 6 Baijiu, with its slight earthy notes and the likes of fennel, melon, aged compost and burnt sesame on the palate. For those keen to explore light-aroma baijiu, there was Beijing Red Star Co., Red Star Daquniang Baijiu (52%), which judges praised for its ‘stone fruit, starch, developed esters, earthy, mushroom and savoury aroma characteristics.’
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 20 best baijiu bottles from the IWSC 2023.
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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