Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Taizi Baijiu: A New Zealand Treasure

Baijiu, a distilled spirit that originated in China and is currently the most popular spirit in the word, suffers from an image problem with many Americans. In the U.S., it has a reputation of possessing a foul smell and taste, reminiscent of stinky cheese, gasoline, and even sweaty socks. Though there are Baijiu with strong aromas that might turn off some people, there are other lighter aroma Baijiu which would appeal to many preferences.

As Baijiu is showing up in more and more local bars and restaurants, now is the time to push aside your misconceptions and taste some delicious Baijiu. I suggest you check out my prior Baijiu articles, to gain a basic idea of this intriguing spirit, from its unique production process to food pairings, drinking etiquette to cocktails. My own Baijiu explorations have continued, leading me to a compelling Baijiu produced in New Zealand!

I was sent a media sample of Taizi Baijiu, from Sam and Ben Lu, the brothers who founded this company. Sam and Ben, who grew up in Taiwan, moved to New Zealand in 1994 and by 2007, they have conceived of the concept for Taizi though it took them two years before incorporating their company New Zealand Chinese Liquor Limited. Finally, in 2013, the first batch of Taizi was bottled and sold commercially. The term "Taizi" literally translates as "extreme purple," (which is the beautiful color captured on the packaging), but it also sounds the same as "crown prince."

Why produce Baijiu in New Zealand? Sam and Ben simply enjoy drinking Baijiu so decided to make their own version. They hired Southern Grain Spirits’ master distiller John Fitzpatrick to distill their Baijiu, using a rare English copper column still that was manufactured by John Dore in 1835. They only produce about 21,000 bottles annually and have no current plans to expand that production amount.

Their production process uses the basic science of Chinese Baijiu production, though they don't emulate every step of many Chinese distilleries. The ingredients in their Baijiu include Australian sorghum, New Zealand wheat, local underground water, wolfberries (also known as goji berries) and the rest is a trade secret. They triple distill the Baijiu, which isn't aged in terrace cotta urns, and it has a 58% ABV, making it a potent spirit. It is classified as a "light aroma" Baijiu, the type which should appeal more to Americans.

"This is as close as baijiu gets to vodka, particularly in the nose. It has a smooth body with notes of violet and apricot and a long peppery finish, which hangs in the mouth and warms the belly."
--Baijiu: The Essential Guide to Chinese Spirits by Derek Sandhaus 

It is suggested that you chill this bottle in your freezer and drink it straight, ice-cold, or you can use it in a cocktail, substituting Baijiu for any white spirit in a classic recipe. I began by tasting it as an ice-cold shot and then experimented with it in a couple simple cocktails.

With its clear color, the Baijiu has an intriguing nose of berries and licorice, and on your palate, the berry flavors are very prominent upfront with more licorice notes on the finish. It has a slightly oily texture, but drinks very smooth and balanced, and you wouldn't realize its high alcohol content. There is an underlying complexity, more subtle notes, including some herbal elements, accenting the Baijiu. This Baijiu lacks that off-putting aroma or flavor which is found in more strong aroma Baijiu so it would appeal to many Americans.

I initially mixed the Baijiu with a strawberry lemonade drink, a 1 to 3 ratio, and that was delicious, the strawberry and lemon melding well with the Baijiu berry flavors. It also worked well with a pineapple/coconut juice and a Clementine juice. I'm certain it would work well in more complex cocktails as well. And within a cocktail, you definitely don't realize the high alcohol content of the Baijiu so you need to take care when drinking multiple cocktails.

The Taizi Baijiu is delicious and complex, one of the best Baijiu I've tasted, and it earns my highest recommendation. It will appeal to many spirit lovers and will change your perceptions about how you think Baijiu tastes.    

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