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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.

Angie Eagan and Rebecca Weiner wrote in “CultureShock! China”: The Chinese expression jiu means alcohol. Bai jiu is a potent grain-based liquor. Pi jiu is beer. Hong jiu is red wine. Ingredients used in Chinese alcoholic beverages are varied, although sorghum-based mao tai, hop-based beers and grapebased wines are most commonly consumed. Chinese people have a strong tradition of drinking alcohol. Most drinking is done while eating out, with family, friends or business associates. Be prepared, drinking marathons occur at formal banquets, whether a festival, a wedding or a business function. It is against Chinese tradition to drink on an empty stomach. One of the most famous rice wines, called Shaoxing wine, is from Zhejiang Province which neighbours Shanghai to the south. In addition to being a favorite drinking wine, [Source: “CultureShock! China: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette” by Angie Eagan and Rebecca Weiner, Marshall Cavendish 2011]

Annual alcohol consumption per capita: 7.2 liters of pure alcohol (2016, compared to 17.4 liters in Belarus; 9.2 liters in the United States; and 2.4 liters in Japan). percentage: beer: 29.6 percent; wine: 3.1 percent; spirits: 67.2 percent. In 1996, China consumed 5.4 liters of pure alcohol. [Source: World Health Organization data, Wikipedia Wikipedia ]

The Chinese have traditionally consumed green tea as a remedy for hangovers.Alcoholism (deaths per 100,000 people): 0.81 (compared to 14.68 in Russia and 2.26 in the United States. [Source: World Health Organization, World Life Expectancy ]

Websites and Sources: Alcohol Use in China ; Warrior Tours ; Wikipedia article on Mao Tai Wikipedia ; Mao tai blog piece / ; Wikipedia article on Beer in China Wikipedia ; China Wine Info ;Gluckman on wine ;

Ancient Drinks in China and the Worlds’ Oldest Wine

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The earliest evidence of wine making comes from China: traces of a fermented drink made with rice, honey, and either grapes or hawthorne fruit found in Jiahu and dated to 7000 B.C. The previous earliest evidence of wine making comes from artifacts dated to 5400 B.C. from Firuz Tepe in Iran. Analysis by University of Pennsylvania's Museum of Archeology and Anthropology of the pores of 9000-year-old pottery shards jars unearthed in Jiahu turned up traces of beeswax, a biomarker for honey; tartaric acid, a biomaker for grapes, wine and Chinese hawthorne fruit; and other traces that ‘strongly suggested” rice.

There is some debate whether the concoction was a wine or a beer or something else. Grapes were not introduced to China from Central Asia until many millennia after 7000 B.C., so it is reasoned the tartaric acid likely comes from hawthorne fruit which is ideal for making wine because it has a high sugar content and can harbor the yeast for fermentation. Wine traces has also been found in a pottery sample from a Chinese tomb dated to 5000 B.C.

The ancient Chinese made beer from Broomcorn, millet, barley, Job’s tears and tubers. Samir S. Patel wrote in Archaeology magazine: “This ancient Chinese beer recipe probably produced an interesting bouquet. The ingredients were identified from residues found in a variety of clay vessels, including a funnel, that may have comprised a “beer-making toolkit” from a 5,000-year-old site in Shaanxi. The find is also the earliest known identification of barley in the country, suggesting the grain was introduced for beer production rather than as food. [Source: Samir S. Patel, Archaeology magazine, September-October 2016]

In May, 2011, Chinese scientists announced they had found 2000-year-old wine in Henan province. Wang Hanlu wrote in the People's Daily, “A Western Han dynasty ancient tomb group was accidentally found at a construction site in Puyang city, China’s Henan province, on April 10. After a period of protective excavation of the tomb group, archaeologists found more than 230 ancient tombs in all, and a total of more than 600 cultural relics have been unearthed so far. During the excavation, archaeologists discovered an airtight copper pot covered in rust. They found the pot had a liquid weighing about half a kilogram in it. On May 10, the Beijing Mass Spectrum Center, which is a joint accrediting body based on the Chinese Academy of Science, identified the liquid in the ancient pot as wine. [Source: Wang Hanlu, People's Daily Online, May 11, 2011]

In the late 2010s, archaeologists unearthed a bronze kettle containing liquor from a Qin Dynasty (221–206 B.C.) tomb that dates back to just before the Han . reported: “The kettle is a sacrificial vessel. It was among among 260 items unearthed from a graveyard of commoners’ tombs from the Qin Dynasty (221-207 B.C.). Most of the relics were for worshiping rituals. Xu Weihong, a researcher with the provincial archeological institute, said about 300 ml of liquor was found in the kettle, which had its opening sealed with natural fibers. The liquor is a transparent milky white. Researchers believed it was made using fermentation techniques, as it was composed of glutamic acid substances. [Source:, May 5, 2018]

Imperial Tusu Wine New Year Ritual

Tusu Wine was a ritual wine used by the Chinese Emperor. According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: ““In the first period of the Chinese New Year, the Qing emperor Qianlong annually greeted the New Year by holding a “First Stroke” ceremony at the Eastern Warmth Chamber in the Hall of Mental Cultivation. He used the “Gold Chalice of Eternal Stability” to drink “tusu” New Year’s wine, the goblet symbolizing the firmness of political authority, and lit the “Jade Candlestick of Constant Harmony” to beseech favorable weather for the coming year. The emperor then took the “Brush Verdant for Ten Thousand Years” to write auspicious phrases of blessing for the New Year, also opening an almanac for the year to pray for peace and prosperity throughout the land. Although the Qianlong emperor specifically ordered the Gold Chalice of Eternal Stability for the First Stroke cer-emony, the consumption of tusu wine had been a rite of the New Year passed down for many years. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/]

“Tusu wine is first mentioned in Ge Hong’s Prescriptions for Acute Diagnoses from the Eastern Jin dynasty, and medical texts through the ages record a similar kind of alcoholic beverage, indicating it was a type of medicinal wine. Its recipe differs among texts but generally includes seven or eight herbs in various proportions. Its preparation usually involved placing rhubarb and herbs in a silken sachet suspended at the bottom of a well on New Year’s Eve. Brought out on New Year’s Day, it was steeped to make an alcoholic drink. Everyone in the family (both young and old) would face east and then take a drink to avoid illness and pestilence for the year.

“On New Year’s Day, the whole family would gather and drink tusu wine in the hope that nobody, young and old alike, would encounter misfortune or illness in the coming year. A tradition passed down over the ages, it gradually became an important custom to welcome the New Year. The spe-cial order for drinking tusu wine would start with the youngest family member and then proceed to the oldest, bestowing New Year’s blessings for the young and long life for the old. Tusu wine thus became a symbol of the New Year and longevity, as seen in traditional poetry and painting.

“At this time of celebration for the New Year, a special exhibition has been prepared on the subject of tusu wine and divided into three sections: “Explaining Tusu, ” “Writings About Tusu, ” and “Drinking Tusu.” Rare books, painting, calligraphy, and antiquities from the Qing palaces now in the National Palace Museum collection have been selected from the Qianlong and Jiaqing reigns to present the allusions and symbolic importance associated with tusu wine as well as the beauty of Qing court wine vessels related to the consumption of tusu.

““Tusu, ” as a symbol of the Chinese New Year and longevity, is often found in traditional poetry and painting about sending out the old and greeting the new. An example in the Qing dynasty is a tran-scription of “‘Xinyou’ New Year’s Eve” from 1741 in Dong Gao’s album Harmonious Poetry Sending Off the Year, in which appears a phrase that mentions tusu. In celebration of the Qianlong Emperor’s eightieth birthday, Jin Jian’s album entitled Prime Notes on Longevity features a collec-tion of imperial lines for seals. One poem on “‘Yichou’ New Year’s Day” includes the line, “Tusu extends life in a jade goblet, ” reflecting the idea of longevity. In the Jiaqing reign, Dong Gao’s al-bums Recording Beauty in the New Year and Sending the Old and Welcoming Auspiciousness fea-tures tusu in two paintings — “Tusu Joyous Drink” and “Tusu of Longevity” — that convey the idea of the New Year and long life, respectively. Also, Yao Wenhan’s “Joyous Celebration for the New Year” is a painting that depicts the moment in the New Year when tusu wine is prepared for elders using the Gold Chalice of Eternal Stability to offer blessings for longevity.

“The Qianlong emperor used the Gold Chalice of Eternal Stability to drink the first cup of tusu wine for the New Year. In Qianlong’s imperial poetry there appears the line “Tusu extends life in a jade goblet” and another on tusu wine in a jade cup. They indicate that, in addition to the Gold Chalice of Eternal Stability, wine cups and goblets made of jade were used for drinking tusu wine during New Year’s banquets at the Qing court to symbolize longevity. Gold and jade vessels made by the Qing court during the Qianlong reign include high-stem cups, handled goblets and cup-and-saucer sets either refined or complex in form. Also, depending on the material, various kinds of decoration appear, such as enameling and carving. Reflecting the beauty and craftsmanship of court objects, audiences can feel the “wine overflowing tusu cups” in the traditional festivities of the Chinese New Year.

Different Kinds of Chinese Alcoholic Drinks

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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 50 cents. Tiangsao has long been the most popular brew. Locally-made foreign brands such as Pabst Blue Label, Carlsberg and San Miguel are also fairly cheap. Beer is often served warm. Many American order beer with ice, the only way the know to get a cold beer. See Beer article.

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 and Wine article.

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.

Angie Eagan and Rebecca Weiner wrote in “CultureShock! China”: Shaoxing wine is a common ingredient used to cook food in the regions of eastern China. It is a tradition in the north to keep wines in big covered wooden vats. When frequenting a restaurant that specialises in northern cuisine, it is a treat to watch the wait staff pull off the lid of the vats and scoop fragrant cups of wine out for your consumption. [Source: “CultureShock! China: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette” by Angie Eagan and Rebecca Weiner, Marshall Cavendish 2011]

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.

Sites for Liquor Making in China

Sites for Liquor Making in China — consisting of five different sites: 1) Li Du Liquor Making Site in Jiangxi Province; 2) LiuLing Workshop, Xushui County in Hebei Province; and 3) Shuijingjie Workshop, Chengdu City; 4) Cellar Cluster for Luzhou Laojiao Daqu Liquor, Luzhou City, and 5) Tianyi Workshop for Jiannanchu Alcohol, Mianzhu City, all three in Sichuan Province — were nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008.

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Liu Ling Zui Liquor Making Site offers important witness for the research on Chinese traditional techniques of baiju brewing production, and the development, creation process in the future. Li Du Liquor Making Site, with the discovered cellars, wells, slots, cooking ranges, airing halls, distilling facilities and other relics, has witnessed the whole process of strong white spirit brewing in China. Shuijing Street Liquor Making Site is the material carrier of the essence of Chinese "thick aroma" spirits brewing craftwork, of which the abundant sorts of traces and unearthed relics have provided evidences for traditional Chinese brewage culture. Furthermore, based on the traditional brewage technology, the present "thick aroma" spirits are continuously absorbing and perfect the essences, carrying on and making innovations of the unique connotation of Chinese liquor culture. Luzhou Daqu Liquor Making Site bears a unique testimony to a cultural tradition. The folk culture and traditions that facilitated the formation of the wine culture in this region are especially diverse and peculiar and they in turn can be reflected by social, historical and cultural milieu of people living in this region. The unearthed relics in Jian Nan Chun Liquor Making Site are magnificent in scale and bountiful in brewage heritage. The discovery of these relics gives us a vivid picture of brewage procedures hundreds of years ago. [Source: State Administration of Cultural Heritage, People’s Republic of China]

“The discovered relics in Liu Ling Zui Liquor Making Site constitute a set of intact, peculiar sight of traditional baiju workshop. In Li Du Liquor Making Site, the glazed pottery vats with the edge built with laying bricks and distilling facilities built with laying bricks are unique to Chinese alcohol sites and also provide an example of the global alcohol brewing. Shuijing Street Liquor Making Site represents an exemplification of science and technology combination which has a unique style, regional characteristics and cultural values. With the core of traditional distillery craftwork, the site, along with the ancient bodegas which have been used for hundreds of years, is not only the carrier and mine of brewing microbes, but also the scarce material for researching the brewing microbes and the changes of brewage craftworks, as well as the representative of solid biotechnology engineering, hence it has very important scientific values. Besides, the site represents the entire craftwork flow from distiller's yeast making, brewage, lees supplement and materials arrangement to storage, blending, etc., and represents the scientificity and rationality of Chinese liquor brewing technology. Luzhou Daqu Liquor Making Site can serve as an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural ensemble or landscape to illustrate (a) significant stage(s) in human history. Especially from mid Qing Dynasty to early Republic of China, this was a period when Luzhou Daqu had accounted for an unprecedented large share of the city's economy.

“Jian Nan Chun Liquor Making Site also witnessed unique techniques such as batch operation, ferment preparation, fermentation, distillation, flavouring and storage, etc., which cannot be displaced, imitated or copied. In the case of Li Du Liquor Making Site, Because of the prosperity of Lidu alcohol industry, some local cultural forms became flourishing, such as literature, calligraphy and music. The discovery of Shuijing Street Liquor Making Site has provided a powerful material evidence for researching the developing processes of Chinese liquor brewing craftwork and the traditional Chinese liquor culture. No liquor, no ritual. The traditional Chinese liquor culture is bearing the important content of the traditional Chinese Li (ritual) Culture. Meanwhile, the site has important meanings for researching the history and culture in Sichuan area, the social and economic statuses, folkways and folk-customs form ancient times to modern times. So the site is in accordance with the standard vi of the world cultural heritage assessment. Luzhou Daqu is also directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance. So far, in Luzhou there have been many liquor-praising poems, legends, songs, dances and folk traditions that are a direct indication of the rich liquor culture in this region.”


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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).

Charles Passy wrote in the Wall Street Journal: Baijiu has notoriously hard-to-like taste and has been called everything from “liquid razorblades” to “the sweat of Satan.” The clear, powerful sip has a kind of licorice-meets-soy-sauce flavor even fans admit isn’t for everyone. The spirit has a history going back several centuries in China. And by virtue of China’s huge population and tradition of alcohol-fueled banquet celebrations, baijiu has become the world’s biggest-selling style of booze, generating $23 billion in sales annually. [Source: Charles Passy, Wall Street Journal, October 11, 2015]

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 and from a government crackdown on corruption and waste that has reigned in lavish state functions and the custom of presenting bottles to public officials. . 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.

For a while there was a Baijiu Bar in New York City called Lumos NYC, in a variety of Baijiu cocktails, starting at $15, Baijiu, and the Wall Street Journal dubbed baijiu the “new darling of NY cocktail scene” but Lumos NYC is now closed. Among the drinks it offered were It features the autumn-inspired Falling South, the almost milkshake-like Sesame Colada and offerings house-infused baijius — in $12 shots or shareable $90 9-ounce bottles — in such flavors as prune, fig and Sichuan pepper. [Source: Charles Passy, Wall Street Journal, October 11, 2015]


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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 alcohol 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

Maotai (100 kilometers west-northwest of Zunyi, 200 kilometers north of Guiyang in Guizhou province) is where maotai was invented and a large portion of China’s maotai. is produced. 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

Moutai Overtakes Diageo to Become World’s Most-Valuable Liquor Company

In 2017, Tom Hancock wrote in the Financial Times: “Chinese alcohol brand Kweichow Moutai, best known for brewing the fiery grain-based drink baijiu, has overtaken Johnnie Walker-brand owner Diageo Plc. to become the world’s most valuable liquor-company. [Source: Tom Hancock, Financial Times, April 10, 2017]

“Moutai’s market capitalisation reached $71.5 billion on the Shanghai exchange on Friday, while Diageo’s London capitialistion is $71.1 billion The Chinese company’s share price has soared in the past year as it has seen rising sales from Chinese consumers upgrading to premium brands, and as a culture of business banqueting and gifting has recovered after a fierce crackdown on lavish spending in officialdom.

“Baijiu has few fans outside China, and about 95 percent of Moutai’s sales are from the domestic market. But total baijiu sales values have surged ahead and now account for 37.5 percent of total global spirits values, according to the Brand Finance’s most recent Spirits 50 report. Meanwhile, Whisky’s value share of the global spirits market shrank from 37 percent to 28 per cent. More than 90 percent of Diageo’s revenue was from North America and Europe in the fiscal year to June. Moutai has been able to increase prices, with the retail cost of its Feitian-label rising RMB100 each month for much of last year.

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.

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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 October 2021

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