Classification of Baijiu
Baijiu is a diverse category of spirits, and individual baijiu styles can be as unique from one another as gin and tequila. According to the official Chinese classification system, baijiu styles are named by fragrance, yet each fragrance refers to a specific regional style with a distinct production technique. Some styles of baijiu are so specific that they refer to the baijiu produced in just one village, or even just one distillery. That said, the vast majority of baijius fall into one of the following four styles.
Strong Aroma 浓香 nong xiang
Strong-aroma baijiu is the currently the most popular style in China. It is generally associated with Sichuan Province, but also has ties to Anhui, Jiangsu and Shandong. It is made by continuously fermenting sorghum—or sorghum and a mix of other grains—in large earthen pits. It has a pungent fruity nose, and has a complex taste reminiscent of tropical fruit and anise with a peppery finish.
Light Aroma 清香 qing xiang
Light-aroma baijiu is associated with northern China, particularly Shanxi Province and Beijing. Light-aroma baijiu uses a sorghum mash that has been fermented with wheat and pea qu in either ceramic jars or stone pits. Light-aroma baijus have a crisp body, with floral notes and a hint of dried fruit. Though they have a mild nose, but the punch is strong: They are typically bottled in excess of 50% ABV.
Sauce Aroma 酱香 jiang xiang
Sauce-aroma baijiu comes from Guizhou Province, most notably in the town of Maotai. Its production process is laborious, involving a series of about eight fermentation-distillation cycles over the course of a year. It is distilled entirely from sorghum fermented with wheat qu in pits lined with stone bricks. The spirits produced in the various cycles have radically different flavor profiles, which are blended together without water to create the final product. It is more savory than most baijiu styles, with earthy, fermented flavors and notes of mushrooms and dark chocolate. It was given its name for a nose that bears marked resemblance to soy sauce.
Rice Aroma 米香 mi xiang
Rice-aroma baijiu comes from southeastern China, specifically the provinces of Guangxi and Guangdong. It is made entirely from rice and sticky rice, and has a similar flavor profile to Japanese saké or Korean soju. It is fermented with rice qu in stone jars and distilled either in a pot or column still. Rice-aroma baijiu can has a sweet floral nose and a subtly smoky finish.