The Wall Street Journal introduces us to a Chinese spirit ranked high as a status symbol in the mystic East, whose taste is both admired and despised.
Chinaâ€™s Kweichow Moutai Co. has become the worldâ€™s most valuable liquor company thanks to a fiery spirit that can cost nearly $400 a bottle.
The spirit is baijiu, a Chinese liquor made by fermenting sorghum or other grains in brick or mud pits. The companyâ€™s version, known simply as Moutai, has a long association with Chinaâ€™s Communist leaders, and has become a homegrown status symbol for affluent Chinese.
One drawback: many people canâ€™t stand it.
The taste is â€œvery much like ethanol,â€ said Jenny Miao, a 26-year-old market researcher in Shanghai. At dinners with clients, she said she sometimes has to toast with Moutai, but will then drink water to wash away the aftertaste.
Baijiu detractors say the taste reminds them of paint stripper or kerosene, especially the cheap varieties. It does have many genuine fans, who laud baijiuâ€™s complexity and distinct flavor varietiesâ€”strong, light, soy-sauce, and rice aroma.
One liquor website describes Moutai as having â€œa silky mouthfeelâ€ and says it carries â€œan undertone of baking spice.â€ Other reviewers say the drink conjures tastes of nuts, sesame paste, mushrooms, cheese, and dark chocolate.
Moutai is usually served in tiny glasses that contain about a third of an ounce of the spirit. Shots are frequently downed to show respect for someone making a toast. People in China say â€œgan beiâ€ before drinking, which literally means â€œdry cup.â€