The Chinese liquor baijiu (白酒), known for its significantly higher alcohol content, is getting a tamed Western makeover.
While the 106-proof alcohol has been distilled the same way for nearly a millennium in China, local distillers are looking to adapt the drink for western markets due to decreasing local sales, reports Bloomberg.
Baijiu makers are seeking to recover from the drop in sales following the Chinese government’s anti-corruption crackdown, which directly limited officials’ lavish parties that are usually flooded with Baijiu. Overall, sales fell by 13% and its prices dropped by 50%.
Experimenting with fruits and ginseng and lowering its fiery potency, Chinese distillers are hoping to rebrand the liquor as “the new tequila” for Americans and Europeans, lowering its alcohol content to 80 proof.
To mask the liquor’s distinct pungency, the companies are testing mixes with grapefruit juice, Angostura bitters and brown sugar. They have also began promoting the new mixes at select bars in the U.S., U.K. and Australia.
Orson Salicetti of the Lumos bar in New York has expressed his support for the drink.
“Baijiu is not a spirit you can just pour into a martini glass and grow an appreciation for its taste immediately,” he said.
“The trick to appreciating baijiu is embracing its unfamiliar flavor in cocktails.”
The popular Chinese drink, also called “white liquor,” is created with sorghum, rice, wheat or corn. Euromonitor International reported that Baijiu makers sold around 5.5 billion liters, or 1.5 billion gallons of the the drink last year.
Old and new players are engaging themselves in creating the Baijiu most palatable to Western tastes, each introducing their new take on the thousand-year-old Chinese drink. Hopefully, in the companies’ quests to evolve the beloved product, the spirit of what makes it Baijiu gets retained.