What you should know about the world’s most popular liquor—and what to try
Chinese spirits have a clear, colorless appearance and a biting, fragrant aroma. Though they’re typically distilled from sorghum, they can also be made from rice, wheat, corn and all sorts of starchy substances. The average strength of baijiu (pronounced “bye-joe”) is around 52% alcohol by volume, but it can be purchased in eye-watering excess of 140 proof.
It’s as ubiquitous as it is potent. Today, baijiu is the world’s best-selling spirits category, and each year a greater volume of baijiu—almost 2.9 billion gallons—is sold than that of vodka and whiskey combined.
Almost all of it is consumed in China: Roughly 99% of liquor sold there is baijiu. It’s served in every Chinese restaurant and banquette hall, and no traditional festival or holiday would be complete without it. Yet most of the world’s drinkers have never heard of it.
—Drunk in China, Baijiu and the World’s Oldest Drinking Culture