• The Brewers Association this week released its mid-year figures for the craft beer segment…and it was pretty much more of the same. For the first six months of 2015, craft beer volume was up 16 percent. That means craft brewers sold 12.2 million barrels of beer, up from 10.6 million for the comparable period in 2014. Also of note is the updated brewery count. As of June 30, there are 3,739 operating breweries in the United States. Of course that was a month ago and since nearly two breweries are opening every day, that number is likely over 4,000 now. For a little perspective, that number’s only about half the number of wineries, so ignore all of that talk of a supposed bubble. Still, the number is colossal.
Seriously, people, why isn’t baijiu better known in this country? The Chinese beverage is the highest-volume distilled spirit in the world—mainly because the size of the population of its country of origin. But there are more people in the U.S. who have tried Italian grappa or at least know what it is and that stuff generally tastes like furniture polish. Anyone who says the same about baijiu hasn’t really tasted baijiu.
To be sure, baijiu is pretty strong. Baijiu’s usually at least 100 proof (50 percent ABV, about twice the strength of Japan’s shochu) and often as high as 120 proof (60 percent ABV), but what struck me the first time I sat down and participated in a serious tasting of it, was how little the alcohol dominates the flavor. I’ve detected notes of everything from pineapple to rice vinegar among the baijiu expressions I’ve experienced and never once did I feel like my nose was getting smacked with huge wave of ethanol.
And as high-proof as it is, baijiu is very much a spirit of moderation. The tradition stemmed cup from which it’s consumed holds only a half-ounce (granted drinking sessions tend to involve multiple servings, but if you’re good at math you can stay sober).