As the oldest white spirit in the world, Baijiu offers a level of complexity that has been shaped over several thousands of years. Baijiu flavours and aromas differ from traditional western white sprits, most notably in the power of their flavour and aroma. The secret to this power can be found in the ingredients.
Baijiu presents a vast array of styles and classifications. These classifications have been developed over a long period of time and reflect the special recipes that define each style. However, at a basic level, Baijiu production has much in common with other spirits – starch or sugar-rich plant matter mixed with a fermenting agent. Baijiu is no exception, with Baijiu makers using a grain called sorghum and a unique fermenting agent – Jiuqu.
There is a popular Chinese saying about the relationship of the grain sorghum and Jiuqu – “Grain is the flesh of baijiu, Jiuqu is the bond of baijiu”(粮为酒之肉，曲为酒之骨). This implies that the grain sorghum provides Baijiu with its rich flavors and aromas, while the Jiuqu, delivers the various levels of structure within baijiu.
Baijiu distillers in China have been using Sorghum as a unique staple in production for thousands of years. Sorghum is an ancient cereal grain that first cultivated in ancient Sudan around 6,000 to 7,000 BP before it made its way to China.
Unlike many grains, Sorghum is naturally gluten free, making Baijiu the spirit of choice of Celica’s and others with gluten intolerances. Additionally, sorghum is a wonderful source of carbohydrates, calcium, iron, vitamin B2 and niacin. Sorghum also contains tannins, a key compound in wine that only adds to enrich the aromas and flavours of Baijiu
Sorghum is also one of the higher sources of flavonoid proanthocyanin. Produced naturally by land-based plants (Blue Berries are another key source), this natural antioxidant is considered to approve the health.
Baijiu uses a special fermentation agent call “Jiuqu”. Unlike many distilled spirits that add yeast to covert sugar into ethanol (known as saccharification), the Jiuqu is a mixture of funghi. The Jiuqu is the most important part of Baijiu production and if often presented as a brick mixed with steam Sorghum. It is similar to the Japanese started “Koji” however predates Koji and differs slightly.
Jiuqu serves two parallel functions, the growth of the microbial species and their generation of enzyme metabolites. It grows microorganisms such as yeast and fungi under certain temperature and humidity conditions. When these organisms come in and contact with water and grains like sorghum, they secrete enzymes that break down macromolecules in the grains, which results in ethanol. Jiuqu is therefore a source of both microbes and enzymes.
Baijiu is unequivocally a central part of Chinese history and culture. Built on the foundations of ancient grains and a unique fermentation starter called Jiuqu, Baijiu’s complex flavours and aromas have survived for thousands of years. We are lucky to be able to still taste the tradition today.