You know how sometimes you need to write something, but you don’t know how to start it? Yeah. I’m trying to figure out how to start this piece about obscure Asian booze. I’ve tried a few times already, but I can’t even get the 1st sentence.
So anyway [that seemed to work], we were having our good friends Pablo and Veronica over for dinner, and had decided it would be a kind of Vietnamese tapas, so I had to go to the Asian supermarket and find all manner of obscure delights – banh tho, banh trang, kecap manis, various types and thicknesses of noodle… Trang Pak… it was a bit of a nightmare, but I managed nearly everything – after an hour circling the aisles. And, just to be interesting, I also decided to go off-list and get some Asian booze.
Now, I knew (and so will you, if you’ve read some of my earlier posts), that these kind of things can be… repellent to the western palate, so while it was tempting to get one of the £30 bottles of sake (the low 14% ABV counted against that) or the full size bottles of baiju – a spirit that has previously been labelled foot whisky on these pages – I went for something small. So here we have a 100ml bottle of Red Star Er Guo Tou Chwe (identified as spirit wine) and a 125ml bottle of Du Kang Spirit Wine 1972. They are 56 and 52% ABV respectively, which makes them quite respectable. The first was £3.95 and the second £4.50.
Both are Chinese products, and from the photo there, you can see they are intriguingly packaged. I didn’t have a clue what I’d bought, so I had a bit of an internet search. Du Kang revealed a legend about a boy and his uncle who made the spirit accidentally, and found it to be good, though it turns out that both are a kind of baiju. This page goes into a lot more detail about baiju than I can be bothered to, so go check it out – after you’ve read the rest of this of course.
There is one thing from that article that I’d like to refer to however. It states, “Many Chinese feel that foreigners don’t like the taste of baijiu because it is too strong. But the Chinese boast that they can certainly handle it.”
Let me just set the record straight there; it isn’t that it’s too strong. It’s that it tastes weird.
After dinner then, I broke out the baiju. The Du Kang came first. No one wanted to try more than a little sample, and I handed it out in glencairn glasses. I recognised the smell straight away – it was identical to the baiju I’d tried previously, though obviously this was a different brand. It tasted exactly the same too, though I’m prepared to accept that that is down to an inability of my palate to actually detect any particular nuances between one brand and another. Veronica said it tasted like parma violets – which I kind of get, but that certainly doesn’t come close to adequate as a description.
After the 1st glass, no one wanted anymore, and I knew I wouldn’t so I tipped it down the sink. The second brand though, the Red Star, was a very different entity. It smelled much nicer, tasted different, and I even refilled my glass after the first one. It is still a bit er… repellent, but nevertheless still drinkable. Will I get it again? Probably not.
I think that’s enough of a delve into these kinds of Asian booze for a lifetime, in all honesty. Should I ever go to China, I might even betray my booze tourism principles and not even bother seeking out weird local products to bring home – unless I get to try it first and think it’s nice enough to bring home. People who think grappa is weird should think again.