Asian Sorghum Spirits

The Popularity of Sorghum-Based Spirits in Asia

This ancient drink has become more popular than ever thanks to a wide variety of brand names that are bringing the beverage to the masses.

Distilled spirits have been used in China for centuries as a way to celebrate and wish the efforts of one’s friends and neighbors well, and sorghum-based alcohol and wine are still some of the most popular drinks on the Asian market to serve this purpose. Across cultures, sorghum-based alcohol drinks may go by many different names, but whether it’s called baijiu, firewater or white lightening, this ancient distilled spirit has become the go-to for Asian cultures from China to Taiwan to Korea throughout the years.


Baijiu is a common Chinese alcohol that has typically been derived from sorghum, a type of grass which can easily be distilled into a clear and relatively smooth tasting drink. It is frequently referred to as the “Chinese vodka” for its similarities in clarity and consistency to traditional vodka. Chinese connoisseurs of baijiu place a heavy emphasis on the aroma of the alcohol, describing the differences in relation to the unique fragrance of each beverage. Some will offer a noticeably lighter or darker fragrance, while others provide a distinctive honey, sauce or rice fragrance. The drink is also often referred to as shaojiu and it generally contains a much higher alcohol content than other types of distilled spirits, with anywhere from 40% to 60% alcohol content considered to be standard.

Brand Names

One of the most recognized name brands selling baijiu these days is Wuliangye, which offers a clean and freshly fragranced drink that is commonly sold in countries throughout Asia. Moutai, a popular brand of baijiu sold across mainland China, is a sauce-fragranced variation of the beverage that is made in the town Maotai and is said to derive its distinctive qualities from the regional climate and vegetation where it is produced. Fen ji, meanwhile, presents a light fragrance and pristine clarity that is virtually unmatched by most other brands.

Throughout China, Taiwan and Korea, consumers enjoy a type of baijiu called kaoling or gao liang, which has an especially light fragrance and mellow feel. A commercially-available Taiwanese brand of kaoling called Kinmen Kaoling claims to have perfected the art of aged kaoling for commercial production, making it widely available and one of the top sellers of baijiu in the world.

Regardless of where it is produced, it appears that sorghum-based baijiu is certainly here to stay. With its generally low price tag and smooth, mellow flavor, this distilled spirit is sure to continue to gain popular favor not only in Asia, but across the globe.

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