Baijiu: Learn about China’s national drink and the best bottles to try

Spirit news

Tue 9 Feb 2021

When people say a particular spirit has a long history, you might think it was first made a few hundred years ago. Well, Baijiu has been made in China for more than 5,000 years. The country’s national drink, it outsells the likes of gin, vodka, rum and even whisky.

Baijiu is distilled from a variety of grains (sometimes from a single grain), including rice, corn, wheat and sorghum, but it’s categorised by its aroma, not what it’s made from. The key aroma types are rice (light and sweet), light (punchy, often over 50% ABV), strong (complex and aromatic) and sauce (herbal, with notes of soy sauce). There’s a host of further sub-categories, too, such as chi, sesame, and the curiously named ‘medicine’.

Baijiu has yet to make serious inroads outside China, where it is usually drunk neat during dinner, but it is becoming more and more available. Jeremy Pascal, bar manager at London cocktail bar Opium, is a fan, explaining that baijiu ‘brings a tropical aroma to our drinks but also a big depth of floral flavour’.

^ Award-winning Baijiu producer Jiangxiaobai hosted a popular cocktail bar at the IWSC's 2019 awards ceremony

The spirit can age well, too, with a number of IWSC award-winners aged for more than a decade, such as Gold winner Fenjiu 20 YO Baijiu, from Shanxi Xinghua Cun Fenjiu Distillery, and Silver winner Gujinggong Chiew Ancient 20 YO Baijiu, made by Anhui Gujing.

It will clearly take time for Baijiu to become a household name around the world, but it’s encouraging to see so many great examples on offer. Below are 20 of the best Baijius from the 2020 IWSC Spirits tasting.

Take our Baijiu quiz to see how much you know about the all-conquering Chinese spirit...

Top Baijius to try this Chinese New Year

Quantu Jingxuan Soft Style Baijiuiwsc-top-baijiu-1.png
Quantujiang Jiu Studio 

Slight colour, explosive, opulent nose with higher ester aromas such as dried pineapple, mango, walnut and liquorice, strong soy aroma. Rich and savoury palate, saline and intense with soy sauce, bok choy and ending with a lovely cereal finish, long and focussed. 53%

Fenjiu 20 YO Baijiuiwsc-top-baijiu-2.png
Shanxi Xinghua Cun Fenjiu Distillery Co. Ltd

Complex nose with apple and pear followed by dried floral notes, earthy, grassy and savoury. The intense palate shows a creamy textual mouthfeel with balanced fruit and soft spice. Lifted and forward finish, refreshing and delicious. 42%

Yidu Traditional Distillery Zhencangji Jiangxiangkunzijiu Hongjin Images Baijiuiwsc-top-baijiu-3.png
Guizhou Renhuai

Combined dark powered chocolate, nutmeg, liquorice and mango lychee notes on the nose. Dry palate, round, ripe fruit character with grapefruit, roasted red pepper, savoury undertones, incredible umami and complex pepper finish of this very nice Baijiu. 53%

Wuxinglongpai Baijiuiwsc-top-baijiu-4.png
Gansu Binhe Food Industry

Roasted vegetable and grain with tropical fruits in the background and overall savoury impression on the nose. Juicy mouthfeel with ripe fruit flavours of pineapple, pear, melon and grape ending on sweet spiced potatoes and aniseed. Long and flavoursome Baijiu. 42%

Rong Tai He 15 YO Baijiuiwsc-top-baijiu-5.png
Guizhou Donghuang Rongtaihe

Distinct soy sauce and fermented dochiang on the nose combining with sesame and brown butter, guava, dried stone fruit and nuts. Smooth palate, well-integrated alcohol, rich and long with tropical fruit flavours and a rich long-lasting finish. 53%

Bainian Shenchu Baijiuiwsc-top-baijiu-6.png
Guizhou Jinsha Gujiu

Soft nose with sweet and savoury notes, ripe apricot, chocolate, roasted meat and baked apple. Some fresh fruit and tropical notes on the palate with a hint of soy sauce and a long lingering finish. 53%

Jixianjiubao BaijiuShanxi Jinshaniwsc-top-baijiu-7.png
Jinmei Baijiu

Intense well-balanced aroma with rice pudding with yoghurt, nuttiness, dried floral notes and porridge. Creamy savoury palate with lovely textural mouthfeel giving green grass, green apple and elderflower notes. 42%

Quantu Jingxuan Classic Style Baijiuiwsc-top-baijiu-8.png
Quantujiang Jiu Studio

Light notes with soy sauce, sesame oil, peanut and cooked vegetables and some pineapple esters. On the palate tropical notes with aniseed and dark chocolate, with long and evolving aftertaste. 53%

Qinghua 20 YO Fenjiu Baijiuiwsc-top-baijiu-9.png
Shanxi Xinghua Cun Fenjiu Distillery Co. Ltd

Delicate nose with bubblegum, cut grass, tea, walnut and vanilla giving a youthful impression. The palate is smooth giving additional tropical notes like pineapple, combining with balanced alcohol and lingering finish. 42%

Jinshengjiu Qinghua20 Baijiuiwsc-top-baijiu-10.png
Nanchang Jinsheng

Savouring aromas on the nose with caramel, walnut, aniseed, chocolate, coffee beans and toffee. On the palate lovely sweetness, balanced fruit and roasted grain flavours and excellent juicy finish. 52%

Qidaoliangpai Yuanjiangjiu Baijiuiwsc-top-baijiu-11.png
Sanhe Fucheng Brewing

Nose of a fresh bowl of boiled rice with lashings of soya sauce, cheese, stewed fruit and nuttiness. On the palate savoury and fruity notes with a touch of smokiness. 50%

Rong Tai He Rong Xiao Jiuiwsc-top-baijiu-12.png
Guizhou Donghuang Rongtaihe

Delicate umami notes, grape, grapefruit and cacao nibs on the palate with a generous mouthfeel, balancing savoury nuttiness and acidity, mellow and rich with a chilli hit on the finish. 53%

Intimate Friend Baijiuiwsc-top-baijiu-13.png
Chongqing Jiangji Distillery

Sweet aromatic nose with cereal, pear, apple and lemon aromas. Beautiful sweetness with fruity and umami flavour giving a round and balanced palate with a good finish. 40%

Jiangjin Shaojiu Classic Version Baijiuiwsc-top-baijiu-14.png
Chongqing Lvxi Distillery

Delicate floral nose with pastry, stewed apples and vanilla. Elegant and restrained with good sweetness and ripe persimmon, roasted sorghum and pepper giving an attractive balance. 52%

Jiangxiaobai Gold Label Baijiuiwsc-top-baijiu-15.png
Chongqing Jiangji Distillery

Aromatic perfumed nose, apples, banana and a hint of apricot stones. Zestiness set against herbs and baked bread with sweet apple and stone fruit flavours giving a nice warming finish. 52%

Jiangxiaobai Pure 100 Baijiuiwsc-top-baijiu-16.png
Chongqing Jiangji Distillery

Light and soft nose with fresh fruits, walnuts, dried florals and tea. Savoury palate with nuttiness and smoky notes showing balance and a subtle palate with a sweet finish. 40%

Gujinggong Chiew Ancient 20 YO Baijiuiwsc-top-baijiu-17.png
Anhui Gujing

Cereal, walnut, roasted peanut and savoury impressions on the nose, sweetness with grains and some tomato leaf, basil, citrus and roasted pineapple on the palate with a long finish with Szechuan peppercorns. 52%

Huiyinong Chinese Zodiac Baijiuiwsc-top-baijiu-18.png
Anhui Huiyinong Baijiu Industry

Complex, intense and broad on the nose with roasted rice cakes, dried pineapple, peach and white pepper. On the palate exotic fruit, cedar, layered complexity with a long finish. 52%

Qidaoliangpai Chunchunliangjiuiwsc-top-baijiu-19.png
Sanhe Fucheng Brewing

Baijiu Richly fruity nose with delicate roasted rice and pear aromas, rounded, mellow and lovely sweetness on the palate with flavours reminding of mango and pineapple, soft and warm finish. 42%

Sha Cheng Shuang Ling 409 Baijiuiwsc-top-baijiu-20.png
Zhangjiakou Great Wall Brewing

Light nose with fruitiness from peach and apricot with some traditional rice soup and earthy, nutty aromas. Palate is fresh with lemon and lime zest, Szechuan peppercorns, very well tasting. 42%