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Baijiu Basics

Look eastward for the world’s best-selling spirit you’ve probably never heard of.

Did you know there’s more baijiu produced each year than vodka and whiskey combined? Baijiu, pronounced “bye-j’yo,” is a Chinese spirit distilled primarily from fermented sorghum, though other grains like wheat, barley, or millet may also be used. Wheat or steamed rice are typically used in the starter culture, which is a solid-state fermentation performed before distillation. This “secret ingredient” is called qu (as in “chew”). 

Though baijiu is clear, its flavor, complexity, and mouthfeel are more like whiskey than any other clear spirit. Based on aroma profile, it falls into one of four categories: light aroma, rice aroma, strong aroma, and sauce aroma.

Image of Ming River baijiu against illustration of gray and white waves.
Baijiu in Denver is still a rarity. If you do find it, it’s likely to be Ming River.

Ming River, a “strong aroma” Sichuan baijiu, is the brand most readily available in the U.S. It’s not easy to find on Denver menus, but you can taste it at Băo Brewhouse, where a beer and shot combo is available in the tap room and three cocktails are offered upstairs in the tea room. (Check out the recipe for the Galaxy Quest cocktail here.)

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Peyton Garcia and Jen Mattioni

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