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We asked Vancouver bartenders to achieve the unachievable: make a cocktail with China's notorious liquor.
What’s the most consumed, by volume, spirit in the world? Go ahead…guess
You’d be forgiven for not getting that. Baijiu, China’s national shot, hasn’t made much headway in the West. You see, cocktails are key to getting a new spirit accepted in North America—think what the margarita did for tequila—and Baijiu comes with the unfortunate status of being “unmixable.”
The problem for western palates is how pungent the drink is. Former CBS news anchor Dan Rather even went so far as to say it tasted like “liquid razor blades.” But that’s kind of the point: Baijiu distillers aim for fragrance and harshness in their spirits. In China, a powerful aroma of caramelization and soy sauce is prized—as is an ABV higher than 50 percent (!)—which doesn’t easily translate to a cocktail base.
Even though she produces Baijiu in B.C., Sherry Jiang—owner of Surrey’s Dragon Mist, which makes Baijiu using local ingredients—has never tried it in a cocktail. “People in China wouldn’t think to do that,” she says. Her Baijiu is forceful with sweet and sour aromas, and some earthiness on the palate. To my taste it’s surprisingly smooth for 56% ABV. But it’s 56% ABV, so really, it isn’t smooth at all.
If Baijiu ever wants to have its “tequila moment” in North America, it’ll have to find its way onto cocktail lists. But can such a pungent spirit make for a decent cocktail? We decided to put some of Vancouver’s best bartenders to the test. With a bottle of Dragon Mist Baijiu in hand, we found out what the city’s best booze minds could come up with.
Amber Bruce, bar manager at Keefer Bar, was surprised by Dragon Mist. She’s familiar with a lot of Chinese Baijius and by those standards, Dragon Mist is a pretty mellow spirit. Still, she picked up some wild, funky notes: “It’s got some of those cheesy, almost rubber flavours we tend to praise in Mezcal, but might see as a flaw with a spirit like Baijiu— we don’t have the same established respect for,” she says.
Bruce came up with a drink loosely based on the Mai Tai. Her drink keeps Baijiu’s punch, but puts it into a tight, fruity and refreshing package.
Ingredients1½ oz Dragon Mist Baijiu¼ oz yellow chartreuse½ oz orgeat syrup1 oz lemon juice2 dashes of absinthe
Kristi-Leigh Akister of Gastown’s Pidgin thinks Dragon Mist has the richness and complexity of a darker spirit; she decided to showcase its strength and versatility in a bright and boozy julep.
Ingredients1½ oz Dragon Mist Baijiu⅔ oz clove syrup*8-10 mint leaves2 dashes Ms. Better Bitters’ Mt. Fuji Bitters
*To make the clove syrup, combine equal parts sugar and water in pot, bring to a boil and remove from heat. Stir in three tablespoons of cloves and let steep until cool. Strain and keep refrigerated in an airtight container.
Doug Stephen of the Merchant’s Workshop decided to make a monster of a cocktail. His Baijiu Kaiju plays with some Pacific-Rim flavours for an intense, layered drink, which jumps from refreshing to powerful and back again between sips. The Baijiu definitely plays the bass note in this drink, but using it as a boozy foundation was part of the plan: “Baijiu doesn’t need to be as scary of an ingredient as people think,” says Stephen.
Bar Spoon of Islay scotch (McClellands Islay is a good, budget-friendly option)1 oz Dragon Mist Baijiu½ oz Pierre Ferrand dry curacao⅙ oz green chartreuse1 oz lime juice½ oz gunpowder green tea syrup*2 dashes Apothecary smokey pear bitters
*For the gunpowder green tea syrup, combine roughly equal parts sugar and water, bring to a boil and add one teaspoon of gunpowder green tea. Let steep until cool, strain and refrigerate.