I'm In China: Japanese Cocktail Master Humbled by 444-Year-Old Baijiu Brewing Magic

LUZHOU, China, Dec. 20, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Invited by cross-cultural experience project I'm In China, Atsushi Suzuki became one of the "experience ambassadors" to work for a day as a "baijiu master" in Luzhou, China. His job was to discover China's oldest distillery. For a veteran in Shanghai's nightlife industry, baijiu (a traditional Chinese rice-based spirit, usually exceeding 45 proof) is indeed common; but the ancient craft behind it's production is an increasing draw to projects such as I'm in China.

All "experience ambassadors" taking part in a "Chinese Working Day" were assigned a series of tasks, four of which must be accomplished successfully in order to succeed. That means Suzuki has to face challenges such as fetching water, forking and sorting grain, taste testing and cocktail fusion.

Luzhou is famous for a particular type of baijiu, called Lujiao, and it's streets are often filled with the scent of baijiu production. Atsushi met his mentor for the day, baijiu master Yang Ping, and was thrown straight into the mix with a simple piece of advice - "You need to be strong to do this job".

All the water involved in Luzhou baijiu comes from the distillery's on-site "Dragon Water Well", chosen for it's purity. On that day, Suzuki's first task saw him hauling 50kg of this water for several trips, before being led into China's oldest Baijiu production cellar.

The Luzhou variety of baijiu - Lujiao has been in production since 1500s - 444 years from now precisely, but it hasn't changed much. Rows of pits in which the grain ferments were emptied and filled in cycles, and Yang Ping was amused by seeing Suzuki flail around the pit with a pitch fork. "Workers must perform these tasks for two years before they can move up to the production line," Yang told Suzuki. A little respite  finally came when he was sieving the grain to remove any impurities, and separating it for even fermentation.

"The secret," revealed by Yang Ping, "is in the bubbles." Pouring baijiu directly from the barrel, he goes on. "The larger the bubble, the faster it disappears, the better the Baijiu becomes. It usually takes two to three years to tell the difference." Suzuki, however, was on the fast-track and showed his advantage as a wine connoisseur when his tasting technique was given a thumbs-up by Yang Ping. "Suzuki was full of smiles as he finally got to apply the skills that have earned him international awards as a mixologist.

"Being able to get such a deep and various experience," Atsushi recounts.  "I have to say that it didn't feel like work. It's more of a humbling lesson in what goes in this traditional art - generation after generation, slowly refining Luzhou Baijiu to become this remarkable product. I know baijiu is still something the world is just now waking up to, but from today I've gained a much deeper understanding and respect for this ancient art form."

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