High-quality baijiu is extremely hard to come by in Germany – it is nearly impossible, to be honest. In Asia shops, you may find some obscure basic brands, but in general the situation is dire. Therefore, I’m always more than happy to get the chance to try a new baijiu, and a specialty like the 杏花村 汾酒 青花 20 (Xinghuacun Fenjiu Qinghua 20) makes me excited already in advance.
Because baijiu is basically unknown in the area where I live, and it will probably this way for most of the readers, at the beginning a few small definitions for the readers who try to get into baijiu – the name of this product is long and complicated, after all.
- 杏花村 (Xinghuacun) is the place where this baijiu is produced. Xinghuacun Fenjiu is the largest distillery in northern China, and they largely defined the prevailing style in this area.
- 汾酒 (Fenjiu) is a subtype of light-aroma baijiu. Important elements in the production of fenjiu are the use of barley and peas as fermentation starters (“qu”), and the burying of the clay jars used for maturation.
- 青花 (Qinghua) is a world-famous Chinese porcelain style, which has heavily influenced the early Islamic, Japanese, Dutch and finally also German porcelain culture – the ubiquitous blue and white is indeed very impressive.
In the first sip, Qinghua 20 is malty, sweet and chocolate-y, with colorful impressions of fruit basket, but without getting too ester-heavy. A very fine spiciness accompanies the taste, a hint of licorice, a very effective balance of sweet and sour with a slight tendency to acidity. 53% ABV is well integrated, in fact I feel it to be one of the softest spirit drinks with such a high proof I have ever had – if I didn’t know better, I would guess it to be more around 40%. Whether the number “20” on the label really means “20 years old” (as some Chinese online shops advertise it to be), I dare not say – the balanced roundness and quiet elegance could well be evidence of such an age, though.
The finish is dust-dry, slightly astringent, still very mild and soft and warm. Aromatically it remains a bit on the short side, with a eucalyptus aftermath. Apricot clings to the palate for a while, along with a subtle metallic taste.
Apart from drinking it neat, this fenjiu makes a great cocktail ingredient. As it is not as terse as many other baijius, it beautifully fits into a recipe that contains the mixologist’s usual suspects of ingredients instead of clashing with them. Therefore I renamed this variation on Phil Ward’s Division Bell, which now metaphorically brings Eastern and Western spirits together – the Unification Bell.