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Jan 11, 2009 08:01 AM

Chinese Baijiu

While at Congee Bowery last night I had a very ying yang experience with this liquor. While waiting at the bar I asked for some good baijiu... I had heard that the brand Maotai was decent. What they offered me and my wife was the last two shots from a green bottle with a red cap, the color scheme of the label was red and blue with a red star at the top. The bartender said that this was a very popular brand in Bejing and someone had brought it in as a gift. The liquor was very strong, seemed rice based with little after taste much like vodka. Wanting more, I asked if something similar could be found and brought to our table. The manager made a couple of calls and lo and behold a bottle of "Wuliangye Chinese famous Liquor" appears at our table. This one was awful, and I understood all the poor experiences of baijiu that I had read about. This baijiu was distilled from sorghum, wheat, corn and rice and tasted like paint thinner. To top it off, they charged me 45 bucks! Dumb gweilo mistake I know. Anyway, I kept the good green bottle all in Chinese and I hope to take it around Chinatown and find another. Any help on this quest would be greatly appreciated!

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  1. If you take a picture and post it I might be able to help you. Also, in Manhattan's Chinatown there are a few liquor places with Chinese wine selection. There's one on Mott street between Canal and Pell. Though, I couldn't find the stuff I had and liked in China at those stores. Maybe you'll have better luck.

    8 Replies
    1. re: HLing

      Here's a picture I found that seems to be the same brand/label. Thanks for the help.

      1. re: Flaco

        ah yes, I've definitely seen this a lot while in China in convenient stores. It seems that the liquor store in Chinatown ought to have it. It's made by "Golden Star" company based in Beijing.

        Next time I'm in Chinatown I'll look for it. It's good that you posted this because while searching online about your baijiu, I found out that the kind of baijiu I liked and tasted in the province of Henan might have started its import to the USA in 2007! When i first came back at the end of 2006, the liquor store owner had said that he didn't have that kind, and that no one here would drink it...but now..there's hope. So, I'll be looking for that in the store, too.

        Yes, contrary to popular belief, good Baijiu can be as as amazing as or as bad as ..say, grappa. You don't believe it until you've had the good stuff.

        1. re: HLing

          I agree some are great and some are ghastly. when I was last in china I picked up a bunch of different types and most were like lighter fluid. But a few were really good, similar to Japanese shochu, but much higher proof. I didn't always find a price to quality correlation either. Some of the most expensive were the worst.

          I have a few unopened bottles left and will have to take photos and post here and I'll do a quick review. These are bottles I bought at the duty free store at the airport in Beijing. The first time I was there the airport military police made me pour out all opened bottles as I went through customs so I couldn't bring them back, just the sealed bottles. The most recent time I went through customs with Chinese spirits they made me open and take a sip from every bottle to prove that they weren't bombs or something. This was really weird because some of the bottles were of such high proof that they were technically hazardous materials.

          1. re: JMF

            JMF, your post brought back memories of being at the airports and having to take a sip from any liquid you may be carrying. I wonder if they have ever had anyone take a sip and fall to the ground...? Agree on the lack of correlation of price to quality on the baijiu. Unfortunately those marked for export are usually less tasty than the stuff they drink in the country.

            Flaco, there are two liquor stores in Chinatown. A smaller, but maybe more honest one on Walker between i think Lafayette and Centre (or btw Centre and Baxter?) . A larger one, on Mott between bayard and Pell (just next to the Hagen Daaz )with many miniature bottles of all sorts (not just chinese) as well as full -size bottles, so it's good for the bottle collectors, at least. I saw the Golden Star brand in both the liquor stores, though in the size that you have a picture for, it's not a green bottle. The larger size, 750 ml of the same, also in clear bottles are something like $13. At the larger store I saw a 750 ml bottle that was green, but didn't see the price on that, and not sure if it'd be different or not, so you'll have to check.

            1. re: HLing

              Okay the eagle has landed... found me a bottle at 53 Mott... thanks HLing. The pricing is crazy, some of the bottles cost more than fine single malt Scotch. Fortunately, the Golden Star brand I was looking for is cheap and (surprise!) is distilled from sorghum exclusively. I also take back what I said about Congee Bowery... turns out the bottle of Wuliangye that they charged me 45 beans for was selling for 39 at Mark's Wine & Spirits. They had a lot of others as well, more than 10 varieties easy. Thanks Guys!

              1. re: Flaco

                Flaco, glad you found it. Still, I have to apologize for messing up the proper brand name. (I was thinking of the Henan province's beer brand Golden Star)
                For the record the Baijiu from Beijing is Red Star. (红星)

                I find it interesting that the 500 ml green bottle is 55 proof (or percent?), the 500 ml clear bottle is 56 proof, but in the 100 ml bottles it seems to be reversed. Then there are other proof with nicer bottles. I'm not sure how they are different.

                Also, I wonder if I shouldn't have bought those minature bottles, for now I'm not sure how "real" they are. There's one that I was curious about that tasted so heavily perfumed that it gave me a headache right away.

                So, beware.

                1. re: HLing

                  Yes I did wonder about the name! The bottle I originally had from Congee Bowery was the green 500 ml. and it's 56%. I bought the little clear 200 ml. bottle from Mark's and it is also 56%. But here's the thing, I do believe that the green 500 ml. bottle was brought from China and is not an import. All of the imported stuff at Mark's had English here and there on the labels. I have yet to taste my prize (maybe tonight) but I will NOT be surprised if it is not the same as my original bottle.

                  In regards to the expensive yet awful Wuliangye I am currently reading Simon Winchester's "The Man Who Loved China" and came across a description of Yibin where the author says it is known only for its distillery that makes a disgusting scotch whiskey... guess where Wuliangye is made? I'm really chasing the dragon now!

                  1. re: Flaco

                    Just took a shot... better than Wuliangye but nastier than the Bejing moonshine.

    2. I just read your description and am very sure what you had is not maotai. I think it is called Hong Xing (red star) Erguotou (two pot head, XD, seriously). The liquor is called erguotou, very different than wuliangye(five grain liquid) or maotai(which is wuliangye brewed at the maotai region). It is fairly cheap in China and any place else(about US$11.99 750mL). This liquor is only popular at the region northeast to the yellow river for working class families. It is popular because of the cost. I think the tavern that you visited is not honest for charging you such a cost for the cheapest liquor.

      Wuliangye and high grade Maotai cost about US$39.99 350mL (RMB800 750mL in China regions, double cost at restaurants)

      1 Reply
      1. re: chwuwd

        The "Er" in Erguotou 二锅头 doesn't actually mean Two in the additive sense in this case, but more like 2nd, in a successive sense. Though of course, Chwuwd's way of looking at it, as "two pot head", seem a catchier title in this time and culture :)

        I'm uncertain whether the "2nd" refers to the 1) the distillation process where only the 2nd, or the "middle" of the flow is taken, as the first and last parts are not of the alcohol from the proper boiling point. The middle part is not as high in alcohol content, but is richer in taste, and can be aged.
        2) 2nd batch distillation using the pomace left from the first time as in how grappa is made.

        Maybe we can leave it up to the Spirit experts to explain?