Among Chinese people, baijiu is renowned as more than a drink. It's a national symbol. Yet, for foreign drinkers, the overpowering flavor of this high-proof spirit usually makes for an overwhelming experience.
In 1972, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai toasted US President Richard Nixon with baijiu for rekindling relations between the US and China. US reporter Dan Rather described this iconic drink as "liquid razor blades". And even today, baijiu is still being depicted as firewater or rocket fuel among Westerners.
But thanks to the creative minds in the alcohol business, this powerful liquor is becoming the new darling of the bar-goers in major US cities like New York, Washington and Los Angeles.
"We've made [baijiu] much more palatable to American tastes," Matt Trusch, the founder of Bye Joe USA distillery, explained to the Reuters. What Trusch does is re-filter traditional Chinese baijiu to lower the alcohol level.
Other creative twists are also being implemented to promote baijiu in the US. Bartenders have concocted baijiu cocktails with an array of ingredients including vinegar, milk, juice and fruits.
Some bars even take more extreme approaches. In New York, a Brooklyn bar named JakeWal combines baijiu with exotic spirits such as Italian myrtle berry liqueur. And others mix baijiu with powerful liquors like rum to balance the flavor.
"The key to making a good baijiu cocktail is to pair it with equally powerful flavors," New York bartender Sam Anderson told The New York Times.
With their distinctive flavor and aftertaste, baijiu cocktails stand out from other classic drinks made from traditional spirits like whiskey, tequila and vodka. The pungent taste may discourage some, but it's actually a draw for many adventurous young drinkers.
"It's a powerful fragrance," Orson Salicetti, a bar owner in Manhattan, told NBC News. "The advantages of baijiu to me are the sweet, mature fruits, nutty and sherry flavors."
"它的香气浓烈，" 曼哈顿一家酒吧的老板奥森•沙利斯蒂告诉美国全国广播公司。 "对我来说，白酒好就好在它甜美醇熟的果香以及与雪利酒相似的坚果口味。"
Interestingly, hipster culture in the US might be the driving force behind the baijiubandwagon. "[Baijiu] is old yet strangely new, and it is popular yet not quite for everyone," US artist Bradley Theodore told The Wall Street Journal. "I think it will become the Asian tequila."