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Moutai (baijiu) liquor


Moutai or Maotai is a Chinese colorless liquor made from fermented sorghum. This one is 48 % proof Picture courtesy of Paulo Fernandes Coll. 2022

Moutai or Maotai is a Chinese colorless liquor, typically coming in between 35% and 60% alcohol per volume. It is served in China at important occasions such as weddings, national holidays, birthdays, etc.

Moutai originated during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), when northern Chinese distillers introduced advanced techniques to local processes. It is distilled from fermented sorghum and comes in several different varieties.

Following the Communist victory in the Chinese Civil War it became a popular drink at state functions and one of the country's most popular spirits. Somebody compares it with moonshine.

Despite being popular in China it remains an acquired taste in the West. Some even like it. It is mild compared to Schnapps and somewhat in-between genever, saké and lamp oil.

It is told about a former Scandinavian prime minister who came from a well-known moonshining region; At an important party in Beijing, this drink was served. The prime minister is said to somewhat concerned having commented " - This one was not very successful... "

Some advisory quotes from recent conversation at the Gotheborg Discussion Board:

Moutai is a clear liquid that should be approached with caution.

Having swilled a few cups in the back alleys of Shanghai in the old days and more recently about twenty years ago in Tianjin. Once poured, you can smell it instantly, even from across the room. It smells like kerosene, lighter fluid and anise oil, and burns like that too. The more powerful versions of about 50 &percent; + alcohol, almost vaporizes in the mouth and exhaling will burn the hair off in your nose. Always consumed straight. Used in toasting for every occasion, real and imagined, it does not take long to take effect. It makes you instantly attractive and you can speak a dialect of Chinese that no one alive today can understand. Later, you will believe that you can breakdance since you will not be able to remain upright and may indeed already be on the floor. You should not drink this near an open flame, specially if you have a mustache. Moutai hangovers are devastating as you perspire the anise oil and fermented sorghum grass out of your pores and you will smell like the empty bottle you spilled on the table before you were thrown out the door, into the street, meeting many other Moutai drinkers in the same predicament. Misery likes company. Moutai is a clear liquid that should be approached with caution. The key is to sip, and pour for others. If your cup is empty, it will be refilled like magic, in the blink of they eye, so fast you might not even notice it. There will be endless toasts until you are truly toasted yourself. I ran the back alleys of Shanghai with the best of them, 60 years ago. Shanghai has changed, but Moutai has not.

The fourth cup is not as horrible as the first one.

I like heavy spirits, from grappa to vodka, rum, tequila, joju, sake (not very strong indeed), cognac, calvados - including the over 70° version that you can get only from friends or the guy distilling it at home, whisky or slivovitz. I have even tried koumiss in Inner Mongolia. This said, I personally think that baijiu in general - and Moutai is not an exception - is probably the most disgusting liquor there is. The main reason for this is likely the distillation equipment used in China, which has no copper component in its lower part; the one closer to the reboiler. As the result, sulphur compounds are not blocked by the copper surface and ends up in the distillate. This is the main reason for the headache that you always have after drinking moutai, or any other type of baijiu. Moutai is highly prized in China, so I would keep the bottle intact with its box and collect it. Better for you pocket, better for your taste, and better for your health :-)
Best Regards