| NEW YORK, June 3
NEW YORK, June 3 Just as Russia has its vodka,
Mexico its tequila and Scotland its Scotch, China has its own
distilled spirit, baijiu.
Baijiu is the world's biggest-selling spirit category and
represents a $23 billion market, according to research reports
by McKinsey & Co and UBS.
But baijiu producers are seeking new markets in the United
States and Europe as sales fall at home after a crackdown on
wasteful spending in China.
The Chinese white spirit distilled from sorghum, wheat or
rice, alone accounts for more than one third of all the spirits
consumed in the world because China is the leading
spirits-consuming nation, according to International Wine and
Baijiu Moutai is China's official drink. It is served at
state diners and often used as a luxury gift. Produced by
Kweichow Moutai Co Ltd, this baijiu can trace its history to the
first century BC and was served to U.S. President Richard Nixon
on his 1972 visit to China.
But China's president Xi Jinping banned red-carpet
receptions and boozy military banquets last year in an
anti-corruption campaign. As a result, sales are down.
The brand was worth nearly $2.4 billion, surpassed only by
Johnnie Walker Scotch, according to consulting firm Brand
Finance. A 375 ml bottle sells for $160.
Baijiu "represents respect. It represents tradition. It
represents wealth, " explained Yuan Liu, a top executive at U.S.
baijiu importer CNS Four Seasons Trading. He, and Manny
Burnichon of Private Cask Imports, have embarked on expanding
the U.S. market for the clear spirit drink beyond the nation's
Producers are trying to convince Westerners that baijiu is
in the same category as whiskies and bourbons. It is certainly
punching above its weight as far as alcohol is concerned. Most
brown spirits top out at about 43 or 45 percent but baijius can
range as high as 60 percent by volume with many of the premium
bottles hovering in the low 50s.
Western palates may need some training to appreciate baijiu.
Michael Pareles, manager at the U.S. Meat Export Federation in
Beijing, initially thought it tasted like "paint-thinner," he
told Reuters in an interview last year.
But he added he eventually grew to like it.
"I believe that baijiu will eventually find a home outside
of China, but it will need to be tweaked to meet the needs of
the local market," says Derek Sandhaus, author of "Baijiu, The
Essential Gide to Chinese Spirits".
"What needs to change is less the drink itself than how it
is presented," says Sandhaus, a native of Kansas who began
drinking baijiu while working in China.
"In China, baijiu is served neat at room temperature, and
almost exclusively with meals. In America and Europe, it is more
common to take high-proof liquor in a mixed drink."
(Editing by Jill Serjeant and David Gregorio)