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Chinese Death Liquor: A Quick Lesson In Baijiu

You’re not really a drunk until you’ve tried Baijiu. Oh sure, you’ve tasted some peaty scotches and poisonous gins in your time, and you may have taken the occasional pull of 151 from a bottle in a paper bag, but it’s not until the acrid flavor of China’s best export hits your tongue that you really enter lush-hood. This shit tastes like socks with AIDS and will make you want to murder your meth dealer. It will strip paint from the side of your garage. It will turn even the most pickled of imbibers into pale-faced pieces of overripe fruit. This liquor doesn’t get consumed so much as it fucks your throat.

My first taste of the liquid regret known as Baijiu took place in March of 2008, when my sister and I visited my brother, Quin, in Beijing, where he was living as a reporter. Quin had laid out a spread for us upon arrival—a few hours after landing, I was swilling half a case of reduced-proof Chinese beer and eating the best Kung Pao Chicken I’ve ever had—and part of that spread were multiple bottles of beautiful clear liquor in official-looking bottles, which Quin told us was Erguoto, the most basic form of Baijiu produced en masse by the Red Star company and twice distilled (the word ‘Erguoto’ means “head of the second pot”). A tall bottle of this 56%-alcohol-by-blahblahblah aperitif goes for about 10 Chinese Yuan, approximately $1.46. In Beijing, it is bought at any corner deli.

Say what you want about the Chinese government—those motherfuckers know how to keep their people down.

According to Quin, there are three things you should know about Baijiu: first, don’t smell it before you drink it. It’ll put your stomach off (yeah, now you’re getting it). Second, try not to inhale immediately after drinking, as the fumes from the liquor can make you dizzy and lightheaded. Third, have a chaser. Water is good, but even better is spicy food. Slug some Baijiu and pound some chili-tossed tofu, and the world is yours

I do not tout myself as a booze connoisseur of any sort; I love strange exotic liquors, but I also love getting bombed on Old Grandad. I find pleasure in both classy and degenerate drunks. But that’s the beauty of Baijiu—it’s both! Yes, you’re drinking from a strangely shaped bottle with a Chinese label, but you’re also getting polluted on liquor that tastes like a mixture of fermented taint sweat and tears shed in a tenement building. Last night, I had my first “nice Baijiu.” I was excited; with some perspective, perhaps I could be a Baijiu snob (making me double-cool!). After two sips of Wuliangye (according the Quin, a “Black Label-level” Baijiu), I realized that it was all a lie. Pricey Baijiu is like Norman Bates—it might be well bred, but it’s still going to fucking kill you.

If you want to experience drunken nirvana, ask for a bottle of Erguoto Baijiu (‘AR-gwoah-toe BYE-jyo’) at any liquor store in Chinatown, or look for a green vase-like bottle with a red, white, and blue label. You’ve been warned.