There is nothing quite like washing down a good bowl of chicken feet with a sickly sweet, pungent swig of baijiu you bought from the corner store for a few RMB to show that you’ve successfully adapted to the local Chinese culture. But if you think that Chinese drinking always starts and stops with baijiu, then you’re sorely mistaken. China is home to wide variety of unusual beers and liquors. For this article, I have completed hours of painstaking “research” in order to bring you the very best of uniquely Chinese alcohols. So go beyond baijiu and participate in the following adventurous romp through the world of wild Chinese alcohol. (I apologize in advance to your liver…drink responsibly).
Guang’s Pinapple Beer Photo: yihaodian.com
1) Guang’s pineapple beer (广氏菠萝啤)
There are actually several varieties of pineapple beer in China, but I chose Guang’s because the bright yellow logo helps get me in the mood to drink some crazy fruit beer. Brewed down in Guangdong by the folks at San Miguel Brewing Company, the pineapple beer is, all things considered, pretty tasty. It’s not too terribly sweet, and the pineapple flavor really comes in at the end.
Where to buy: uncommon at local shops; available in larger supermarkets like Carrefour to Lian Hua
Price: 2-3 RMB per can
Bottom line: You may not want to drink it all the time, but it’s certainly an interesting detour from Tsing Tao
Guang’s Pinapple Beer Photo: nipic.com
2) Kumis/airag (马奶酒)
This unconventional drink is popular in areas of Inner Mongolia (where it is called Airag) and in Xinjiang. Kumis is made from mare’s milk, or, on more massive scale, from cow’s milk. If you’re not into automated production, you can always have Kumis in its traditional container; a horse-skin bag left out in the sun to ferment.
ABV: This one varies pretty wildly. Traditionally only around 2.5%, but some of the massed produced ones can get significantly higher
Where to buy: Inner Mongolia or Xinjiang, or if you’re not keen on that, Taobao.com
Price: 25-168 RMB on Taobao
Bottom line: A bit sour, but not terrible. Plus some of them come in really cool wineskins with Ghengis Khan plastered on the front
Wolfberry liquor Photo: nixiahong.ceepa.cn
3) Wolfberry/goji berry liquor (枸杞酒)
I have to be honest, I didn’t even know what the hell a wolfberry was before I saw it in liquor form jammed on the shelves at the local Joymax. Being the adventurous sort I decided to try it out and, I soon came to realize what a terrible mistake I had made. But despite having flavor properties that could be likened to sickly sweet battery acid, Wolfberry liquor has, in fact, a long and storied history in China. Most notably, it has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of year to treat a whole gamut of illnesses.
Where to buy: most local supermarkets and convenience stores
Price: As low as 30-40 RMB; as high as 90 RMB per bottle
Bottom line: Not good, my friends. Strong and sweet, you can’t get much worse than this stuff
Waxberry wine Photo: tbttc.com
4) Red bayberry/waxberry wine (杨梅酒)
This drink falls under the same random exotic Chinese berry drink as the aforementioned Wolfberry. Also hilariously called Yumberry, you can see the dark-red fruit peddled by passing ayis on the street at various times during the year. Industriously, Chinese proto-distillers started to ferment the fruit and bottled as an alternative to baijiu and huangjiu.
Where to buy: Standard Chinese grocery stores like Lian Hua or Chaoshifa
Price: ~50 RMB per bottle
Bottom line: The drink itself is not great, but not bad, and is about as strong as your standard issue bottle of Great Wall. Actually, the alcohol might work well in a cocktail, perhaps in some kind of Chinese sangria
Osmanthus wine Photo: gu9.com.cn
5) Osmanthus wine (桂花酒)
The Osmanthus flower blooms during the spring in many Chinese cities, offering a beautiful scent that temporarily masks the stench of car exhaust and teeming masses of humanity. So, some enterprising businessperson decided to try to capture that scent in alcohol form. The alcohol is made from Zhejiang to Guilin, and while it is not quite as well known as some of it’s more potent Chinese cousins, Osmanthus wine is definitely worth a taste, or, at least a smell.
Where to buy: The first time I saw it was in a restaurant in Xi’an, but you can also find it in some grocery stores and on Taobao
Price: 15-20 RMB for a cheap bottle; around 70 RMB for a nice bottle
Bottom line: While the taste is okay, unsurprisingly, the smell is fantastic and makes up for any disappointment in the flavor department
Maotai Photo: nipic.com
6) Moutai/Maotai (茅台酒)
Granted, Maotai is pretty common in China, but since it can get so damn expensive, I put it on the list anyway. Having the distinction of being the most “decorated” of Chinese liquors, Maotai has a long and storied history in China, and it’s most famous for being the liquor of choice for expensive official banquets.
Where to buy: Virtually anywhere in China, due to it’s fame. But fakes are common, so stick to big box retailers like Carrefour or Wal-Mart where they’ll give you an official receipt
Price: 50 RMB to 1.26 million RMB; the most popular version is about 1,000 RMB
Bottom line: Call me unsophisticated, but I can’t tell much of a difference between this and normal baijiu. But then again, I drank the cheaper kind
Do you really want to see a picture of baby mice wine?
7) Baby mice wine (幼鼠酒)
This is certainly not for the faint of heart. Here we have baby mice wine, which is baijiu with newly-born mice left to ferment in the liquid for various lengths of time. You won’t be finding this one at your local market, so you will have to go through a few extra steps if you really want to taste the sweet, sweet flavor of terrified, drowned baby mice.
ABV: Depends on the liquor used beforehand, but usually around 30-40%
Where to buy: Instead of telling you where to buy this, I’ll quote Dante’s Inferno: “Through me you pass into the city of woe … Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”
Bottom line: It is supposedly chock full of several beneficial health properties according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, but since I have not had the…distinction…of enjoying this drink, I will have to take their word for it
Snake wine Photo: weiku100.com
8) Snake wine (蛇酒)
I’m not exactly sure why, but snake wine seems much more palatable than baby mice wine. Snake wine also has purported medicinal value according to Chinese medicine, but if you’re ill and desperate enough to be sipping baijiu and fermented snake, then you may have bigger problems on hand. Of course, snake wine isn’t just limited to China; it can also be found in Vietnam and in other Southeast Asian countries.
ABV: Like baby mice wine it depends, but usually generally 30-40%
Where to buy: Taobao, Traditional Chinese Medicine shops
Price: Fairly pricey, a bottle on Taobao will set you back 500 RMB
Bottom line: Like baby mice wine, I have not had the honor of consuming snake wine, but I’m sure that the story of drinking snake wine would be well worth the horrific hangover you’d experience the next day
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Keywords: Unusual Beers Baijiu
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I have tasted baby mouse wine, around 40 % alcohol by volume, two years. Nothing sweet on it, but does get you warm. According to my GF, it is a wine for women, not men. Taking on a daily basis, does a lot of wonderful things, like increase body defenses to catch a cold, keeps her warm in winter without needing too many layers of clothes, increase energy levels, etc. True ?. Don't know myself, but she swears so.
Feb 09, 2013 09:42 Report Abuse