Baijiu’s moment

Or is it? This soaringly popular Chinese spirit is as loathed as it is loved

Baijiu, a Chinese spirit made from sorghum, is tapped to be the next big thing. Some say it already is. Getty Images photo

There are a few spirits that are often called the “next big thing,” but, for whatever reason, never seem to quite make it to the major league.

Rakia, aquavit and even rum are all often pegged as promising new future “it” spirits. After you hear their names thrown around for a decade or so, though, it starts to make sense to take the trend forecasters with a grain of salt.

These days, an oft-cited “one to watch” is baijiu, a spirit from China with a lot of different personalities that a few prominent bars are going all in on. The most notable are Laowai in Vancouver and Toronto’s Hong Shing, both of which have built a cocktail program around baijiu. In addition, several bars and restaurants in Toronto feature baijiu in cocktails or straight up, including Chinatown’s Big Trouble and the acclaimed restaurants MIMI Chinese and Sunnys Chinese.

Montreal’s Poincaré Chinatown also sells a Baijiu Caipirinha and there’s an entire venue in Edmonton named Baijiu—although it’s worth noting that they only currently have one cocktail with this divisive spirit on the menu, the Baijiu Sour.

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Earth, wind and fire

B.C. craft baijiu brands bring the ancient Chinese spirit to modern imbibers

The fresh, crisp, slightly floral Deep Earth baijiu is ideal for newcomers to the grain spirit. Photo courtesy of Deep Earth Distillery

It can taste of soy sauce and mushrooms, damp earth or overripe fruit. It’s fermented in earthen or stone pits, and even aged in baskets coated with pigs’ blood. Its styles are categorized by words like “strong,” “sauce” and “medicine” aromas. 

But despite the challenges it might pose for western palates, baijiu (pronounced “by-joo” or “by-joe”) is the new bartender candy. Now two B.C.-made versions of the Chinese spirit—Canada’s only craft baijiu—are helping to bring an ancient spirit to the modern bar.

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Don’t Let Them See You Bleed

Don’t Let Them See You Bleed cocktail. Photo courtesy of Laowei

This large-batch cocktail was created by Alex Black, co-owner of Laowai, for the Vancouver Cocktail Week gala; keep it in the freezer to serve as desired. Note that you will need a digital scale to measure some of the ingredients, as well as a vacuum sealer.

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Enter the dragon

Is Baijiu the new tequila?

Baijiu is beginning to make its mark on western cocktail menus. Lou Lou Childs photo

As unlikely as it sounds, the infamous Chinese firewater baijiu—a pungent brew capable of bringing tears to eyes and setting throats ablaze—could be the hot new ingredient for bartenders.

Clear, potent (50 per cent-plus alcohol by volume) and often compost-pile fetid, the centuries-old spirit distilled from sorghum and other grains is also the world’s most consumed liquor.

Never heard of it? You’re not alone.

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Dragon Mist Distillery

Using wheat from Dawson Creek, Surrey-based Sherry Jiang is producing Canada’s only expressions of traditional Chinese spirit, baijiu.

213-19138 26th Ave., Surrey

Read more about Dragon Mist Distillery:
Enter the dragon: Is baijiu the new tequila?


• Dragon Mist Vodka
• Dragon Mist Baijiu
• Dragon Mist Gin
• Cranberry Liqueur
• Coffee Liqueur
• Blueberry Liqueur
• Limoncello


Baijiu Gold

FRAGRANCE: Sweet wheat, bread.
FLAVOUR: Intense with heat, anise, lingering sweetness.
FEEL: Light on the palate, extremely vibrant on the tip of the tongue, dissipates quickly.
FINISH: Very long finish of sweet wheat.
BEST ENJOYED: An intense high-proof spirit. Think a Chinese version of the ever-popular White Dog.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Packs a punch for those looking for a neutral spirit with some balls. —Wendy McGuinness, April 2016

Coffee Liqueur

FRAGRANCE: Steeped medium roast.
FLAVOUR: Tempered coffee, touch of anise.
FEEL: Soft, unassuming.
FINISH: Sweet, too short.
BEST ENJOYED: Maybe on the rocks.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Too unassuming to make an impact. —Josh Pape, July 2016

Cranberry Liqueur

FRAGRANCE: Stewed dark fruit.
FLAVOUR: Tart cranberry snap.
FEEL: Oily, good staying power. 
FINISH: Lasting.
BEST ENJOYED: In a punch or simple mixer with soda.
THE BOTTOM LINE: A great festive holiday mixer. —Robyn Gray, October 2016

Blueberry Liqueur

FRAGRANCE: Berrylicious.
FLAVOUR: Not overly sweet at all. Very enjoyable.
FEEL: Light. Doesn’t have that thick sugar feel, which is nice.
FINISH: Short, clean.
BEST ENJOYED: Neat, as an after-dinner sipper. Would be great in a spritz.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Get a bottle if you’re looking for a natural-tasting liqueur. —Scott Barber, July 2017