Skip to main content

The Manual Guide to Baijiu

Image used with permission by copyright holder
Pronounced “bye-joe” and literally translating to “white liquor,” baijiu has been an integral part of Chinese culture for millennia. There are stories that stretch back over 4,000 years highlighting the importance of this spirit not only in social, but also religious and medical contexts.

Historically, baijiu was made from sorghum, and in some cases still is, though many distilleries now also employ rice as their grain base. In some cases, a mixture of both is used.

What makes baijiu baijiu, though, is a fermentation starter known as qu. Without this, you would not have baijiu (just like you wouldn’t have a bourbon if it were, among other things, not aged in a new oak barrel).

Even though there aren’t legal definitions that include the aging process, baijiu isn’t necessarily a quick spirit, though, even if it is white liquor. According to Michelle Ly, who is one of the proprietors of Vinn Distillery in Portland, they first ferment the rice for six months before distillation. Next, they distill the spirit three times in pot stills before storage for about a year before being bottled. Ly’s baijiu, which is one of the only baijiu distilleries in the United States, comes from a recipe that dates back seven generations in her family.

Related: World Sake Day with Ty Ku Sake

When drinking baijiu, Ly says, the flavor varies from palate to palate. Where someone may pick up sweet wine-like notes similar to what you would find in saké, other may latch onto smoky notes like those in tequila or whiskey. Some, depending on the brand, she added, might even find floral essences similar to some gins.

In other words, if you like booze, you’re bound to like something about baijiu.

To drink baijiu, you can go about it one of a couple different ways. First, you can take the traditional route of drinking it at room temperature during a meal, using the spirit to complement the flavors of the food you are consuming. For a more modern take on baijiu—and much like soju and other spirits with Asian roots—you can take a half ounce shot of the spirit, then repeat. And repeat. And, well, you get the idea.

One of the great things about baijiu is the aforementioned ability to call to mind flavors similar to other spirits—this, Ly says, allows baijiu to work well in a wide variety of cocktails, from bloody Marys to margaritas.

To order baijiu, check out the distillery’s website or on Baijiu America.

Sam Slaughter
Sam Slaughter was the Food and Drink Editor for The Manual. Born and raised in New Jersey, he’s called the South home for…
Rum 101: An enthusiast’s guide to understanding the different types of rum
After you read this rum guide, you'll know which are your favorites

Rum's importance in the grand history of American drinking stretches back to before the U.S. became a country. Rum was a necessity in the Colonial days, both as an item for trade and as one of the primary means of getting good and wasted. When the country was just getting on its feet, whiskey as we know it hadn't quite made an impact yet. That left, rum and hard cider and other imports.

Nowadays, rum is crafted in many parts of the globe, with producers employing traditional rum-making methods and a multitude of blending and aging techniques. Given its strong influence in the world, it’s important to know what rum is, how it’s made, as well as the different types of rum that are available out there.

Read more
What is Cognac? A quick guide to the classic French spirit
Learn all about Cognac in our entry-level guide to the classic Frenc spirit
Brandy in the sunlight

Cognac is somewhat simpler than its name suggests. The best way to understand the French spirit is to treat it like its closest cousin: wine. In short, Cognac is a type of brandy made in its namesake commune in western France.

Similar to the best wine, it is tied to a specific place on the map and must be made from a select list of grapes in a particular style. There are aging and blending requirements tied to Cognac, much like a Chianti Italian wine or Bordeaux. Further, Cognac is best enjoyed in a particular kind of Cognac glass (the wine comparisons continue) that allows you to drink Cognac the right way. Get in there and sniff and savor the stuff.

Read more
Mojito, mule, and more: A festive mocktail recipe guide for New Year’s Eve
A mocktail guide for winter: Mojitos and more
Eggnog with spicy cinnamon for Christmas and winter holidays

Step into a world of holiday wonder unlike any other, where the spirit of the season comes alive through tantalizing flavors and festive cheer—all without a drop of alcohol. As we dive into the heart of the approaching festivities, let's embark on a flavorful expedition, discovering a treasury of mesmerizing mocktail recipes including mojito, coquito, and mule recipes. From captivating presentations to seasonal sensations, these expertly crafted concoctions are ready to enchant taste buds and elevate celebrations for the sober and sober-curious alike. 

Apple Cider Holiday Mule 
Perfect for ginger beer lovers, this festive drink will definitely get you in the holiday spirit. It’s a spiced take on a classic favorite — perfect for a New Year's Eve party or a quiet night at home.

Read more