In Douglas Adams’s masterwork The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Zaphod Breeblebox creates a drink called the Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster; the effect of one “is like having your brain smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped around a large gold brick.” Adams had obviously flew to China and been inspired by a shot of baijiu.
While Chinese men love to pour a glass of baijiu for every battle-hardened man at the dining table, expats in China have a love-hate relationship with “China’s favorite drink.” Ok, so it’s mostly hate. Although it has a harmless transparent appearance, foreigners often eagerly rant about baijiu’s vicious smell, horrific taste, or its obscene alcohol content. Despite foreigners’ adversity, Chinese baijiu producers are trying to angle into the US market, probably thinking, if Chinese can consume 11 billion liters of this 110-proof alcohol a year, why wouldn’t American drinkers embrace baijiu- a billion Chinese can’t be wrong, right?
Swellfun, a premium Sichuan baijiu brand, is taking the lead in baijiu’s march into the US. China Daily reports:
“Last month, London-based Diageo, the world’s largest liquor company, got approval from Chinese authorities to buy the remaining 47 percent stake of Swellfun, which is the joint venture partner to Diageo.
‘Swellfun has already been sold in the US for two years,’ Rice said, adding that Diageo has been distributing it there.”
So far, Swellfun has only been sold in large airports and an Asian-American supermarket chain, the not very Asian-sounding 99 Ranch Market. Although their main customers are overseas Chinese and Chinese Americans, Swellfun hopes to expand their presence in America:
“‘Twelve percent of its sales are outside of China,’ said James Rice, general manager of Swellfun, one of the premium baijiu brands based in Sichuan. ‘We expect that to grow to 40 percent in the next five years.'”
Even the patriotic China Daily thinks that baijiu’s popularity will be limited due to its potent smell. But Rice plans to get creative to increase baijiu’s acceptance among Americans. If baijiu is served cold, it’s thought, Americans may be more open to it. Since baijiu is traditionally taken as a shot, he hopes that cold shots will be the order of the day. He also plans to introduce “Swellfun based cocktails” and baijiu dishes such as “Swellfun twice-cooked pork”. Who knows, perhaps Swellfun will roll-out baijiu kung pao chicken as well.
Regardless of baijiu’s much loathed smell and taste, Rice thinks that with ‘consumer education’, Swellfun can make it in the US. Swellfun’s marketing campaigns in America are definitely worth looking out for. Perhaps the company can devise a cruel drinking game, the punishment: taking a shot of room temperature baijiu. He who dares, wins.