Sunday, February 17, 2013

What is Maotai Part I

I was recently reading an article entitled How Mrs Thatcher Lost Hong Kong: Ten years ago, fired up by her triumph in the Falklands war, Margaret Thatcher flew to Peking for a last-ditch attempt to keep Hong Kong under British rule - only to meet her match in Deng Xiaoping. Two years later she signed the agreement handing the territory to China by Robert Cottrell which was published in The Independent dated August 30, 1992. In the article, Cottrell describe parts of then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's visit to Beijing (then known as Peking) and how she essentially lost the British colony of Hong Kong to the Communist Chinese. One thing in particular caught my eye from not the historian's perspective but from the bartender's perspective. The article makes a brief mention of a spirit called Maotai. Here is how it is described in the article:
Between toasts in maotai - the Chinese sorghum liquor, of which Clive James, also in the press party, observed: 'It has the same effect as inserting your head in a cupboard and asking a large male friend to slam the door'
Well, based on that description, how could I not want to research what Maotai was. Before I go into Maotai, I needed to look into what Sorghum is. In the article What is Sorghum from the Wisegeek website, Sorghum is described as:
Sorghum is one of the top cereal crops in the world, along with wheat, oats, corn, rice, and barley...Sorghum is favored by the gluten intolerant and is often cooked as a porridge to be eaten alongside other foods. The grain is fairly neutral in flavor, and sometimes slightly sweet. This makes it well adapted to a variety of dishes, because, like tofu, sorghum absorbs flavors well. It can also be eaten plain...The grain is also used around the world to brew beers
According to the listing for Maotai on the Confucius Institute Online:
 It is produced in a town called Maotai, in the city of Renhuai , under the jurisdiction of the prefecture-level city of Zunyi, in the Guizhou province of southwestern China. It is believed that the town of Maotai possesses a unique climate and vegetation that contributes to the taste of the drink. Maotai, which is classified as "sauce-fragranced" (jiangxiang) because it offers an exceptionally pure, mild, and mellow soy sauce-like fragrance that lingers after it is consumed, is distilled from fermented sorghum and now comes in different versions ranging in alcohol content from the standard 53% by volume down to 35%.
In additon, here is how it is described in terms of Historical relevance in China:
Maotai is named after the town with the same name near Zunyi in Renhuai, Guizhou Province, where winemaking has a very long history. The Maotai of today originated during the Qing Dynasty and first won international fame when winning a gold medal at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. In addition, Maotai was also named a national liquor in 1951, two years after the founding of People's Republic of China. Maotai also claimed two gold medals separately at the Paris International Exposition in 1985 and 1986. Maotai has won 14 international awards and 20 domestic awards since the Chinese Revolution...During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Maotai became the first Chinese liquor to be produced in large-scale production with an annual output of 170 tons.In 2007, more than 6,800 tons of Maotai were sold. Maotai current sells over 200 tons of Maotai to over 100 countries and regions across the world.
Lauren Hilgers of Newsweek in an article entitled How Maotai Became the World’s Only Socialist Luxury Brand dated March 4, 2012 describes Maotai as such:
Maotai was once the preferred drink of China’s revolutionaries; today it is the country’s most expensive domestic spirit. There is no brand more entangled in China’s political history or more representative of the country’s modern contradictions. It graces the tables of China’s elites. Older bottles are so sought after that they sell for millions of yuan at auctions. Maotai is perhaps the world’s only socialist luxury brand.
Apparently the Chinese revolutionaries during the 1930's would use Maotai to disinfect and sterilize wounds and to cure a number of different ailments. Also, journalist Dan Rather upon tasting some Maotai described it as if he was drinking "liquid razor blades". LOL. Zhao Chen who is an author of several books on Maotai (is quoted in the Hilgers article as describing Maotai) “It’s not just a drink; it’s a piece of Chinese culture.”

Apparently Zhao has also come up with the proper way to consume Maotai. Here is how it is described in the Hilgers article:
The taste can take getting used to, so he thinks one should always start with three small shots in quick succession. (Zhao is more charitable than Dan Rather in his characterization of Maotai’s taste. He calls it “spicy.”) “You can’t sip Maotai,” he explains. “You need to feel that ‘glug’ in the back of your throat. Then you know you’re drinking it correctly.” Under his arm, Zhao carries a bottle. Written diagonally on the label is a number, 53 percent, or about 106 proof. “Some of these go up to 60 percent,” Zhao says.
Three small shots in quick succession of 106 proof liquor? Man, that is some potent stuff to be shooting in that manner. I can see why Clive James described Maotai as having the effect of sticking your head in a cupboard and having a large friend slam the door on your head. LOL.

Well, I guess I have a scavenger hunt ahead of me. Now where do I find some Maotai here in NYC. Any suggestions true believers? Hmmm, the quest begins.

Until Then Happy Drinking,
Sisco Vanilla