What is Bai Jiu, the Devils Candy of China

Bai Jiu

While I will drink mots everything there is one exception to this and that is Chinese “white wine”. This though might be about to change as flavored Bai Jiu (Chinese white wine) has now entered the fray.

What though is this magical drink that is both loved and loathed in equal measure? This is the tale of bai jiu….

What is Bai Jiu?

Bai Jiu is Chinese rice wine, or more specifically rice liquor. In the Chinese language Bai translates as white, while Jiu can be translated as booze, or wine. This led many Chinese people to tell me it was “white wine”. I regularly corrected them on this, as this is no wine.

And before you compare it to Soju, or Sake it is neither of those either. This is a super strength liquor that is usually north of 50%. It comes in a wide array of brands, with some costing the same as a bottle of water. At the top end though it goes for thousands of dollars and with much in between.

For example one of the best known brands is Moutai, a firm favorite at weddings.

Is Bai Jiu that bad?

Quite simply yes it is. When I first arrived to China we would drink the cheap stuff before heading to a club, referring to this Devils Candy as “magical fun juice” as while it is disgusting it certainly gives you a buzz.

It is though hugely popular in China, something I noticed greatly while traveling around Guangzhou, particularly at weddings. I have been in many wedding parties where the groom has to have a shot at each table. He can though designate it to someone in his wedding party. This led to me being wheeled out as some kind of tank……

What does Bai Jiu taste like?

The taste to me is horrendous, not to mention the smell. Many a person has woken up had a bai jiu burp and puked. Alternatively seeing an old alcoholic on a train crack open a bottle in the morning and getting a whiff is also enough to set the vomit off.

In this respects it is very different to other much more neutral white liquors and has a very potent taste. What that taste is is quite hard to explain, with all brands being slightly different too. In essence there is a firm rice wine taste that cuts across the board here. Alas you only know it if you know it.

Can you mix Bai Jiu with anything?

Another key point with regards to this and with regards to how “good” Bai Jiu is is the fact that no one goes into a nice bar in China and gets Bai Jiu. In fact it is simply not available.

Surely though it can be mixed to be made palatable? No it cannot, with there being zero Bai Jiu cocktails.

Bai Jiu and coke maybe? Alas not with the taste of Bai Jiu being such that it always overpowers whatever you mix it with. This far and away rule out tonic water and soda water. In fact the only even mild success (and I mean mild) that I have found were bai jju and sprite, as well as baijiu and apple juice. With the later at least the apple seemed to at least partly neutralize the bai jiu flavors.

Can you get Bai Jiu in other countries?

As a rice liquor you can get bai jiu or similar drinks right through the region. In Japan super strength sake has much in common with bai jiu, as does string soju in north and south Korea. In general though string soju is not usually made with rice, so again has its own (better) unique flavor.

Rice liquor is pretty big in Vietnam, particularly at weddings, but again I found this much more palatable than Chinese bai jiu. Perhaps the best iteration of it that I had though was in Malaysia with a head hunter tribe who made their own. This is also true for Cambodia where home brew makes people blind literally every few months.

To read what people ate in Democratic Kampuchea click here.

Nowhere though celebrates bai jiu like China and is undoubtedly the biggest selling liquor in the world. Yet with there being so many brands there is no one big hitter. Interestingly the biggest selling liquor brand in the world id Jinro soju.

Can you not get other booze in China?

So, is it just me, or is the stiff really that bad? This is a mixed bag of tricks, because many people obviously do really like it and it is quite a cultural thing. On the flip side though China is the most protectionist country earth, save North Korea.

I remember first going into a supermarket and being shocked that there really was just Bai Jiu and no vodka etc. This has largely stayed the same, with ot not just limited top vodka. China are also trying to thwart the Soju revolution too, as while this drink has swept across not just the region, but the world, it is only in places like 7-11 and other independent convenience stores where you can get it.

And this I truly believe is because if you gave Chinese people a real Choice then Bai Jiu would simply go the way of the Dodo. Always remember this kind of thing when China bleats on about unfair trading…….

Flavored Bai Jiu hits the shelves…

On this trip though I was not only to see, but indeed try something new and that is flavored Bai Jiu. Now I cannot even begin to explain what a thing this is.

In fact it is such a thing that I will even give it its own article, but suffusive to say it has at the very least made a bad situation at least slightly better.