Are You Supposed To Drink Baijiu Straight?

Baijiu, the best-selling alcohol in the world, is a clear and rather strong-tasting Chinese grain spirit, averaging 50% to 65% alcohol by volume (ABV). Pronounced "bye-j'yo," baijiu (or 白酒) means "white spirit" in Chinese. Outside of China and Asia, baijiu has grown in popularity among both younger drinkers and Western crowds in recent years. The baijiu industry in China is valued at billions of dollars, with one of the most popular labels, Kweichow Moutai, being worth over $40 billion. Its Moutai raked in nearly $50 million in 2023 alone, as per Brand Finance.

As early as 2016, Tasting Table predicted that baijiu would be the new mescal. We've also discussed extensively how you're supposed to drink baijiu. Traditionally, in China, you'd find baijiu served neat in shot glasses at the dining table alongside food, where it should be served neither cold nor warm but at room temperature. One often enjoys baijiu with others, either during holidays and celebrations, or after work with coworkers and superiors. 

But is drinking baijiu straight the only way to enjoy this strong spirit? The answer is no. It's the traditional way of drinking baijiu, but the younger generations in China don't enjoy taking this spirit neat and straight. They prefer to dilute baijiu, infuse it with inclusions like fruits and spices, or enjoy it in cocktails.

Making baijiu cocktails

For years, especially among China's youth, baijiu has been seen as retro and unexciting – or viewed as an older person's drink, similar to bourbon in the United States. Thus, it's surprising to see baijiu's resurgence, especially among younger drinkers. Across American bars and restaurants, cocktails made with baijiu are also trending. Search "baijiu cocktails" on TikTok, and you'll find plenty, from Baijiu Coladas to Baijiu Old Fashioneds to a Baijiu Basil Smash. 

Baijiu can also be used to make margaritas and sour cocktails. For instance, a Sichuan Sour can be made from a mix of lime and pineapple juices, rum, passionfruit liqueur, and baijiu, all mixed and strained into a glass. It's good to learn the four main types of baijiu before drinking it or making a cocktail with it, as the spirit comes in different flavors, much like rums or whiskeys. Some baijiu, like the sauce aroma type, may taste too strong and overpowering in a cocktail, and drinking it straight might still be the best way to go. 

Light aroma baijiu, with its smoky and somewhat grassy notes, works well in cocktails that include fruits, mezcal, or fennel. On the other hand, strong aroma baijiu tends to work better with spices and tangy inclusions, like lime or pineapple juice. While baijiu cocktails are trending, they're still relatively new to the bar scene in both the West and China. Therefore, the world of baijiu cocktails is a bartender's oyster.