Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Baijiu: Cocktails, Boston & World Baijiu Day (Part 4)

How can we convince more Americans to try Baijiu?

One of the best ways to persuade more Americans to try Baijiu might be to ease them into the spirit through cocktails. Consumers have embraced other niche beverages, such as Sherry, Mezcal, and Sake, through cocktails. Bartenders across the country, who have been intrigued by Baijiu, are starting to experiment with Baijiu cocktails so you can find more and more such cocktails on your local bar menus. It is becoming a hot new ingredient, an intriguing new spirit which with bartenders can concoct their own wondrous creations.

Using a Baijiu like Hong Kong Baijiu (HKB) in a cocktail is relatively easy due to its lighter flavors and lower alcohol. For example, you can use it as a simple substitute for other white spirits, from vodka to rum, in a classic cocktail. You could create a Baijiu Margarita, a Baijiu Daiquiri, or a Baijiu Bloody Mary. You can also create your own new Baijiu cocktail to highlight the fruity flavors of the HKB. It is more of a challenge to create cocktails using stronger-flavored Baijiu, those with more funkier aromas and tastes.

For those stronger Baijiu, you generally need to pair it with equally powerful spirits and liqueurs, from Amaro to Mezcal. Citrus and tropical fruit flavors also seem to pair well with stronger Baijiu. The main idea is to find a way to reduce the earthier, funky flavors while enhancing the other flavors within the Baijiu. However, you will find a small number of consumers who want to embrace the earthiness, who don't want the bartender to hide or lessen those flavors. With such a customer, a bartender can let his imagination run wild. At home, if you are starting out with Baijiu cocktails, I recommend you pick up a bottle of HKB as a start.

In the Boston area, if you are willing to explore Baijiu, where can you find it?

There are currently about 30-40 Baijiu brands available in the U.S. but you'll only find a small number available for retail in the Boston area. The primary local distributor for Baijiu is Burke Distributing Corp. which has about 7 Baijiu in their portfolio, including Hong Kong BaijiuLuzhou Laojiao ZishaShui Jing FangWu Liang Ye and Kweichow Moutai. Of those five, only the Hong Kong is available as a 750ml, the rest available only in 375ml.

As an example, you can find the Kweichow Moutai ($145.99/375ml) and Hong Kong Baijiu ($48.99/750ml) at Redstone Liquors in Stoneham. You should also be able to find Baijiu at stores including Whole Foods Market in the South End, The Wild Duck Wine & Spirits in Chinatown, Burlington Wine & SpiritsTruong Than Market in Chinatown, Morrissey Boulevard Wines and Liquors, Blanchard's Liquors, Liquor World, Wine Gallery, Macy's Wines & Spirits, and Ball Square Wine & Spirits. Any liquor store that deals with Burke Distributing will be able to order Baijiu for you even if your store doesn't usually carry it.

You won't find many local restaurants carrying Baijiu though Hong Kong Baijiu (HKB) can be found at a number of places, including potentially Audubon Circle RestaurantBanyan Bar & Refuge, China PearlFairsted KitchenParsnip, DrinkWu Er Barbecue, Red Lantern, and Blue Dragon. Though you could order HKB on its own, you are most likely to see it at these places in cocktails. Two spots though, Red Lantern and Wu Er Barbecue, are truly passionate about Baijiu, offering a wider selection.

At Red Lantern, they carry Strong Aroma Style Baijiu including Hong Kong Baiju ($10), Luzhou Laojiao Zisha Daqu ($9), Mianzhu Daqu ($9), Shui Jing Fang Wallaby ($20), Wu Liang Ye ($42) and one Sauce Aroma Style, the Kweichow Moutai ($40). These are also available in a Tasting Flight of 3 brands (1/2oz pours) for $33. In addition, Brother Cleve has created a special Baijiu cocktail for them, the Peking Mule ($12), which is made from Mianzhu Daqu, Plum Shrub, Black Walnut & Ginger Beer.

At Wu Er Barbecue in Brookline, they carry Hong Kong BaijuLuzhou Laojiao Zisha, Jian Nan ChunShui Jing Fang WellbayWu Liang Ye and Kweichow Moutai. They are available as a Shot, a 2oz Pour, or by the Bottle. Shots range from $4-$16 and 2oz Pours range from $11-$55. In addition, they offer HKB in two cocktails, The New Frontier ($11) and Blue & White Porcelain ($11). The New Frontier is made with HKB, Tequila, Garam Masala, Lime Juice, Bell Pepper & Thai Chili while the Blue & White Porcelain is made with HKB, White Rum, Lime, Coconut Cream, Curacao & Sesame.

I recently had the opportunity to taste The New Frontier cocktail during a media visit to Wu Er Barbecue. It was absolutely delicious and one of the better cocktails I've enjoyed as of late. The Baijiu took a prominent role and was definitely evident in the drink, which also was only mildly hot but with an intriguing spicy aspect. This cocktail paired very well with the cuisine, including the five-spice & garlic chicken. This is a cocktail that would appeal to many people and would be an excellent gateway to the wonders of Baijiu. I wanted to try the Blue & White Porcelain but they were out of coconut cream.

Outside Boston, probably the best example of an American bar which is showcasing the versatility of Baijiu is Lumos, the first Baijiu bar in the country, which is located in New York City. With Chinese backers, Orson Salicetti, the former head bartender at Apothéke in Chinatown, has created a temple to Baijiu, a place to find a wide variety of Baijiu, about 40-50 brands. If you peruse the menu, you'll find plenty of intriguing cocktails that sound enticing. They also are making their own Baijiu infusions and aging some Baijiu in oak barrels. Could oak-aged Baijiu taste more like whiskey? You couldn't start a Baiju bar in Boston, especially as only about seven Baijiu are available, and the demographics probably wouldn't support such a niche bar. The next time I visit NYC, I need to check out Lumos.

As most of you know, every day is a holiday celebrating some food or drink, from National Doughnut Day to National Margarita Day. Such holidays are best when they try to bring awareness to some niche item, which needs more recognition and promotion. Americans certainly need to know much more about Baijiu so it is cool to know that there is a holiday celebrating this unique Chinese spirit, and it will soon be here.

Next month, World Baijiu Day will be held on Tuesday, August 9. This holiday was created by Jim Boyce, who runs the nightlife blog Beijing Boyce and wine blog Grape Wall of China. The intent of the holiday is to raise exposure of Baijiu, to spread awareness beyond the borders of China. There is a list of venues, those bars and restaurants, which are planning Baijiu celebrations and there is a single restaurant in Boston that is currently listed, Red Lantern. Once I learn more about what they plan to do for World Baijiu Day, I will let you know.

To be continued...

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