Shanghai White has been around for more than two years now, but unless you live in Shanghai or Hong Kong, chances are you won’t have seen or tasted it. I’ve just managed to acquire a bottle, so thought I’d give brief overview.
Part of Diageo’s portfolio, it is produced in Chengdu at the ShuiJingFang distillery, more famous as one of China’s oldest Baijiu distilleries (China’s National Cultural Relics Bureau has certified it as China’s First Baijiu Distillery, dating back to 1408).
Price-point is reasonably high, sitting amongst other premium vodkas such as Belvedere and Grey Goose, but still a long way short of ShuiJingFang’s baijiu. Diageo explain this cost in terms of the production technique, being based on the SJF baijiu fermentation, but with additional distillations and filtrations.
It’s a pretty elaborate process, which gives the complex (and pungent) flavours of baijiu, but clearly the additional steps strip out a lot of the baijiu characteristics, leaving a reasonably neutral vodka. Having said that, it’s still pretty distinctive when tasted against other vodkas.
The process starts with a dry pit fermentation of five grains. This is key to ShuiJingFang’s production, with the pits claiming to benefit from the same soil that made the brand famous over 600 years ago – a very complex fermentation with lots of strains of yeast and bacteria at work (resulting in the very flavoursome spirit).
This is then pot-distilled, as with ShuiJingFang. Some of this spirit is then mixed with grain neutral spirit and re-distilled in a copper pot still. The heart of this is again mixed with grain neutral spirit and redistilled yet again in a copper pot still. Finally it is charcoal-filtered and diluted to bottling strength (40% abv) with pure water.
Shanghai White comes boxed, with nods to the elaborate baijiu packages – a metal clasp on the side and a mixture of textured card and material.
The bottle itself is tall with the metal and material repeated on the cap. Most of the glass is frosted, except for a revealing slit up one side – designed to resemble the flash of leg given off from the side of the traditional Chinese qipao 旗袍. In the base of the bottle is a hexagonal punt, with each face depicting a different image from 1930s Shanghai (the ShuiJingFang bottle has a similar base, depicting production of the spirit).
A branch of cherry blossom completes the design (visible from the outside and from the inside through the clear panel).
It’s a pretty nice package in my opinion, particularly when illuminated on a back bar.
For anyone familiar with baijiu, this does have a very slight hint, but in a good way (!). It’s slightly sweet on the nose and a little fruity on the start of the palate. It has a very smooth mouthfeel (almost oily, like some European wheat vodkas), with a slightly peppery (and long) finish.
Price means it’s designed to be drunk neat (possibly with bottle serves in mind), but I think it also makes an excellent vodka martini (I’d go very dry with a citrus twist or a dash of bitters rather than brine or olives). As with any vodka though, much more than that and you’re losing the subtlety.
I always like to read the marketing materials for vodka, so thought I’d include it verbatim from the side of the box:
Shanghai White is being included in Diageo’s World Class competition (or at least the China part of it) this year – something I am helping to judge, so I hope to see some Chinese bartenders experimenting with it and playing up the baijiu link.
(disclosure – I do some work with Diageo, but haven’t been asked to write this, and all comment is purely my own).