20111124-aisa obscurablack-cat-55.jpg
The suffix “jiu” connotes alcohol. Sorghum-based hard liquors and spirits are known as baijiu. Grape wine is putaojiu. Rice wine is huangjiu and beer is pijiu. Some hard liquor is said to have aphrodisiac qualities. Such qualities are not usually ascribed to beer or wine unless they contain snakes or scorpions.Many Chinese prefer to drink their alcoholic drinks warm or at least at room temperature, believing that drinking them this way is good for digestion. Arguably the favorite drunken activity is karaoke singing. Womanizing and watching sports are also often accompanied by alcoholic beverages. China has its share of drinking games. Losers of drinking contest in Sichuan have to walk around with clothes pins pinned to their ears.

Chinese have traditionally preferred powerful grain alcohol that they gulped down to get drunk over wine or beers. The beer and wine industry were given a boost in 1987 when the government encouraged Chinese to drink them rather than spirits as part of campaign to reduce alcohol-related health problems and accidents. In recent years the government has begun discouraging people from drinking grain alcohol and even beer so that grain can be consumed as food rather than in alcoholic drinks.

The Chinese have traditionally consumed green tea as a remedy for hangovers.

Good Websites and Sources: Exhaustive info on Alcohol in China ; Alcohol Use in China ; Warrior Tours ; Chinese drink classification ; Different Alcoholic drinks ; Wikipedia article on Mao Tai Wikipedia ; Mao tai blog piece / ; Beer Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; United Nations of Beer on Chinese Beer ; Beer Blog ; Wine China Wine Info ;Gluckman on wine ; Chinese Wine


Different Kinds of Chinese Alcoholic Drinks

20111101-Wikicommons drink Snake- iquor Shenzhen.jpg
snake liquor

Beer is the most popular alcoholic beverage in China. It is generally pretty cheap, especially the local brands. A large bottle of beer can cost as little as 25 cents. Locally-made foreign brands such as Pabst Blue Label, Carlsberg and San Miguel are also fairly cheap. Beer is often served warm. See Beer and Wine

Imported wine and whiskey are expensive. Locally produced wines aren't very good. Tonghua in northeast China is known for sweet grape wines. There are a number of wineries in the Beijing area and in Shandong. Some decent wines are produced in Xinjiang. The Chinese are fond of drinking white wine mixed with Coke and red wine mixed with Sprite. They even mix good wine with soft drinks. See Beer and Wine

Sichuan is the home of two famous spirit brands: Wuliangye and Luzhous Laojiao. Shanxi is famous for its shots of grappa-like Fen jui. In Inner Mongolian, fermented mare’s milk is called manaijiu or naijiu (“mare’s milk wine”). Shaoxing in Zhejian Province is famous for shaohsing (red rice wine). The Chinese often drink shaohsing when making toasts at banquets and drink beer between toasts. Shaohsing is usually not consumed at bars but it is used in cooking.

Other popular alcoholic drinks include a soju-style drink popular in north, lao-lao (a yellow sake-like rice wine made from fermented yellow rice) and osthmanus wine (a syrupy and medicine-tasting drink made from osmanthus trees). Chinese rice wine is used primarily in cooking although sometimes alcoholics consume it because of its cheap price.


20111101-Wikicommons drink Baijiu modern.jpg
modern baiju
Baiju is a clear spirit, usually made from sorghum. It ranges in price from as little as five yuan---less than 50p---to tens of thousands of yuan for vintage bottles of the best brands. It is a staple of formal or celebratory dinners, often coupled with beer. It is also notorious for causing inebriation, since it is 80 to 120 proof and frequently consumed in large quantities. Baijiu is particularly associated with Beijing. It is generally clear like vodka but are much more potent, and has a reputation for making those who drink it "insensible." Baiju makers have names like Jinguchen or Golden Green Spring. Maotai is a kind of baijiu (See Below).

Baijiu is often drunk in shots ar banquets. An American businessman who once was served baijiu at banquets for breakfast, lunch and dinner told the New York Times, “When there are six people and you see three bottles of baijiu waiting on the buffet table, start eating and start eating fast.”

Tim Clissold, author of of Mr. China, a memoir of doing business in China, wrote of baijiu, “I’ve never met anybody, even at the heights of alcoholic derangement, prepared to admit they liked the taste. After drinking it, most people screw up their faces in an involuntary expression of pain and some even yell out.”

Baijiu remains a popular banquet drink but overall consumption of the drink has declined as Chinese have become affluent and wider choice of alcoholic drinks have become available. A younger generation of businessmen is beginning to look down on the while banquet routine, preferring to do business on the golf course

World’s First Baiju Bar

In April 2005, AFP reported: ““China's traditional rice liquor isn't to everybody's taste, but the owners of a new bar in Beijing are hoping to get customers to see it in a new light. The first time I tried baijiu, it was definitely not love at first shot. I tried mixing it with Coke, but even that didn't dull the liquor's unique taste. Unique is a polite way of describing it. Others have compared the taste to bathroom cleaner or cheap perfume. <<< [Source: Agence France Presse, April 13, 2005 <<<]

“But, given the assignment of writing about Beijing's first bar dedicated to baijiu (and the world's first, the owners claim), I vowed to keep an open mind about the white spirit, at least for one night. Capital Spirits opened in August, and is located in a quiet hutong near Guijie, or Ghost Street. The bar doesn't open until 8 pm because the people who run it have day jobs. I get there a little before 9, and sit down at the bar next to a tall jar of snake-infused baijiu (more on that later). I ask the bartender, Matthias Heger, to recommend a drink, and he suggests a Baijiu Sour - a concoction consisting of bitters, sour mix and a light rice baijiu. For someone who is not a fan, it's a good reintroduction to the spirit. <<<

“And that, says Simon Dang, co-owner of the bar, is what Capital Spirits is trying to do: let people experience baijiu in a new light. Many visitors to China try baijiu for the first time at a banquet or dinner, and are often encouraged to drink glass after glass. Dang, 44, of San Diego, California, says he first tried baijiu in 2002, when he moved to China to study the language. "I didn't really like baijiu until (we opened) this bar," says Dang, who also handles public relations for Capital Spirits. <<<


20111101-Wikicommons drink Maotai.jpg

Maotai (mao-t'ai is the most popular brand of baijiu. Also known as kaoliang), it originated from a village in Renhuai County in Guizhou Province. Made from sorghum and wheat, it is nasty 130-proof stuff with a taste that has been compared to rubbing alcohol and lighter fluid. New York Times correspondent R.W. Apple Jr. wrote it "smells a lot like JP-4, the stuff that powers the engines on Air Force One, and its only slightly more drinkable."

Maotai is usually served in small glasses and is said to be best consumed at room temperature.Honored as the official “national wine” of China, it is commonly used in toasts. Before a national television audience of millions, U.S. President Richard Nixon and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai toasted each other three times with cups of maotai. Nixon cringed noticeably when he drank it. Ronald, Reagan, Ho Chi Minh, Tito, Kim Il Sung and John Major were also toasted with maotai as guests of honor on state trips to China. In a meeting in 1974, Henry Kissinger told Deng Xiaoping, “I think if we drink enough Maotai. We can solve anything.” Deng replied, “Then when I go back to China, I must increase production of it.”

Mao-tai was formulated in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).The alcoholic content of maotai is reportedly so high that many Chinese will tell you never to light a match near it. Sold in white bottles with a distinctive diagonal red label, it is sometimes used as paint thinner and people sometimes carry it in the trunk of their car in case they run out of gasoline.

Maotai is quite expensive. A a porcelain bottle of the stuff sells for $220 or more. Efforts by the government to cap the price at $160 have been unsuccessful. Because it so expensive it is a common guanxi present and is sometimes given as an outright bribe. It is also widely counterfeited. By one estimate 90 percent of the Kweichow Moutai sold in China in 2010 was fake. Even in the town of Maotai locals sell an additive they say makes home-brewed baiju tastes like the real thing. [Source: Leo Lewis, The Times, November 12. 2011]

In 1992, a merchant was executed for trademark infringement because he labeled ordinary moonshine as maotai. In Taiwan, maotai is called gaoliang liquor. The Taiwanese island of Quemoy is reportedly the source of the best stuff. In China, Renhuai in Guizhou is still renowned for producing the best and most fiery maotai

Kweichow Moutai Factory Town

Leo Lewis wrote in The Times: “As you descend into the secluded village of Maotai, the vapor of the distillery reaches up from the valley and scrapes at the throat. The taste of China’s most famous alcoholic drink is even more belligerent. That assessment is not welcome. To the unconverted,Kweichow Moutai may have all the appeal of meths, but to hundreds of millions of Chinese, its 53 per cent alcohol “baijiu” is the pinnacle of connoisseurship.” [Source: Leo Lewis, The Times, November 12. 2011

The plant of Kweichow Moutai Co. Ltd. in located in Maotai Township of Renhuai, Guizhou Province, southwest China. The Mouai company gets its name from the pre-revolutionary name of the village where the drink is made. In 1951, after the Communists came to power, several factories were combined into a state-owned company and the party and the military have claimed 40 percent of the output ever since.

In 2011, the Moutai factory celebrated its 60th anniversary as a state enterprise. Celebrities, top officials and VIPs descended on the town of Maotai for a three-hour extravaganza and the Moutai company spent $80 million to secure coveted 10 second advertising slots before the 7:00pm news broadcast on Chinese New Year.

Moutai has evicted 15,000 residents in the town to make way for new factories to keep up with ambitious output targets. In addition so much of the areas’s water’said to be secret behind maotai’s flavor---is used to make the liquor, the river that runs through the town is so shallow to longer support boats as it had in the past

Bootleg Alcohol in China

The poor often drink fake alcohol. There have been many reports of deaths and people going blind attributed to this practice. Poisonous, fake liquor left 40 people dead in Shanxi province in 1998. A story on the problem was shown on the television show In Focus. Chinese President Jiang Zemin saw the show and immediately ordered local officials in Shanxi to do something about the problem. Officials closed the operation and hospitalized people who had been poisoned. At least 200 lives were saved.

Bootleg bottles are also a problem. In a three month period in 1998, 470 people were injured by exploding bottles, including 27 blinded by flying glass. The daughter of migrant workers was killed by glass shrapnel from a bootleg bottle of beer that exploded in Shanghai. The problem was blamed on inferior bottles and bottles that had been recycled too many times.

20080226-hennessyad billbroad in Beijing.jpg

Weird Drinks, Scotch and Cognac in China

Clear liquors with lizards, bees, ants and snakes in them are popular tonics. Snake spirits---comprised of an entire snake submerged in a bottle of alcohol---is said to relieve arthritis. Ant spirits are also regarded as a treatment for arthritis. The species of snake and ant used for these concoctions are carefully chosen. The snake wine sold in the Guilin area is 30 proof rice liquor flavored with a dead cobra in the bottle. The Chinese generally believe that tonics with poisonous animals are more powerful than tonics without them.

The Lanzhou Morning Post ran story about 23-year-old farmer that was fond of drinking machine oil. He began drinking the stuff when was eight and also liked to drink gasoline, diesel fuel and paint. His friends call him the “oil mouse.”

Young people like to drink whiskey and Scotch mixed with green tea. Peasant like shots of Sprite and Double Deer beer.

Scotch consumption has increased at rate of 22 percent annually for the last 20 years and is especially popular with the Chinese elite and nouveau riche. Scotch exports to China were around $100 million a year in 2010, a 70 percent increase from the year before and an 80-fold increase from 2000. The British government has been promised that Scotch will get special brand protection which its hope will boost sales of the real and reduce the sales counterfeit versions.

In December 2010, the Royal Salute whiskey group introduced the 62 Gun Salute---the group’s most-aged blend of Scotches housed in a handcrafted Dartington Crystal decanter with a 24-carat gold-plated collar, a crystal stopper with a 24-carat-gold plated crown and a label painted with liquid 24-carat gold---with the Chinese market it mind. Each bottle will sell for 18,000 yuan (about $2,700).

Cognac was fashionable briefly in the 1990s but quickly went out of fashion. Martel made a big push to market cognac in China but found that the Chinese didn't like cognac as much as other Asians.

High-Priced Alcohol in China

In September 2011, AFP reported: “A Chinese businessman has put down a deposit for a rare bottle of whisky costing nearly $200,000 at a duty-free shop in Singapore's Changi airport, an airport spokesman said Monday. With a price tag of Sg$250,000 (US$199,400) the 62-year-old bottle of Dalmore single malt is reportedly one of the most expensive ever sold. The buyer spotted the bottle on display and quickly made a deposit of Sg$100,000 by bank transfer, Changi Airport Group spokesman Ivan Tan told AFP. [Source: AFP, September 19, 2011]

"It's one of only 12 bottles in the world," Tan said. He described the buyer as a "frequent visitor to Singapore", but declined to give more details. The bottle was part of a special promotion called "Master of Spirits" aimed at connoisseurs, and it remained on display in a glass case at the shop Monday pending full payment by the buyer.

According to the Edinburgh-based Scotch Whisky Association, Singapore unseated Spain to become the third-largest importer of whisky worldwide after the United States and France in the first half of 2011. Much of Singapore's scotch imports eventually go to other Asian markets, thanks to its strong trade and tourism links with the rest of the region.

Image Sources: University of Washington, Wiki Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated July 2015

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from, please contact me.