Despite the large Chinese population living in Richmond and the abundance of Chinese restaurants, most of us without Chinese heritage have seldom tasted Chinese wines or spirits.
Baijiu (By-jew), which literally means white liquor, is reported to be the world’s most popular spirit. Thanks to China’s huge population, 20 billion bottles are sold annually there.
Traditionally, baijiu was produced from sorghum, distilled and buried in ditches or in large clay jars to ferment and age. It has been described as having a bouquet of fetid compost. When former CBS reporter Dan Rather was covering Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China, he described baijiu as “liquid razor blades.”
Although it is a distilled spirit like whisky, rum, or cognac, it is different from most western spirits in three ways. First it uses semi-solid fermentation and a starter culture, jiuqu which is a dry brick of mashed grains inoculated with fungi. And it uses steam rather than boiling to distill because there isn’t enough liquid for it to boil.
Like western spirits, baijiu has several classes with different characteristics and different prices. There are four of these classes or “fragrances”. Light is delicate and dry, but high in alcohol. Most westerners prefer this style.
Rice is is floral and sweet and obviously named after the ingredient. It was once reserved only for royalty.
China’s most popular baijiu is produced with at least two different grains and fermented in mud pits, giving it a complex and overripe personality. This is what you see being downed in one gulp at Chinese banquets.
Finally, sauce is the most expensive type of baijiu, which needs a year of labour intensive fermentation in caves. The sauce is savoury and tastes like soy sauce.
Although baijiu’s origins are Chinese, it’s also made in Surrey. The Dragon Mist Baijiu is a light style and is packaged in a beautiful bottle with a painted dragon, has a 56% alcohol content, and a price of $17 for 250 millilitres or $47.46 for 750 millilitres. It’s distilled from wheat grown in Dawson Creek in the Peace River District with Canadian glacial water.
Sherry Jiang is the owner of the Dragon Mist Distillery. Jiang, a foreign-trained doctor, immigrated to Canada in 2004 and decided to begin a new career in her new country. After several years of research, she became a distiller and opened Dragon Mist which produces a variety of spirits including baijiu, vodka, and gin, and liqueurs such as limoncello, cranberry, blueberry, and coffee.
Dragon Mist Baijiu is a colourless spirit with a soft and seductive bouquet of grain, and honey, and fennel. This is surprising as I expected a harsh smell because of its 56% alcohol content. Made from wheat it has a smooth and elegant flavour of the grain as well as licorice and an extended finish. This enchanting elixir reminded me of aquavit with fennel instead of caraway.
In China, Jiang drank baijiu straight with Chinese food and with friends. Now in Canada she prefers drinking it on its own with ice water. I prefer it chilled. If you enjoy cocktails, the Dragon Mist Distillery, has several cocktail recipes online for you to enjoy.
You can buy Dragon Mist Baijiu at Kingswood Liquor Store and JAK’S Liquor Store on Sea Island Way. Ganbei!