Shuijingfang Baijiu Cocktails Part 1 – Classics
I have been living and bartending in China for 3 1/2 years now. Over the course of that time I have tried to taste a few Chinese baijius from a professional perspective (as well as from a social one over dinner!) and write some tasting notes as well as some background on the production of baijiu itself.
I’ve also tried creating a few baijiu cocktails (see here and here), which led Diageo to very kindly send me a couple of bottles of their Shuijingfang (水井坊/Swellfun) Wellbay (52% abv) brand to try out in a few more drinks (more about the Shujingfang distillery and Shanghai White vodka can be found on this blog here, and the brand’s homepage is here).
Approaching this in a somewhat logical manner, I decided to start by making a series of classic (or modern classic) cocktails, replacing the standard spirit with baijiu in order to get an idea of what worked and what didn’t before going off-track a little more. This post is the result of a few of those experiments. More to follow in due course after further experimentation…
For all of these drinks, the other ingredients remained true to standard recipes, I just swapped out the base spirit to see what worked. I played around with the ratios a little to balance differing sweetnesses and to draw out other flavours, but by and large, the ratios remained much the same too. Minimum was 20ml Shuijingfang per drink – these were supposed to work with the flavours of the baijiu, not obliterate it, but the spirit is 52% abv, so equally didn’t want to go too heavy on the alcohol.
First up, what else but a twist on the Blood & Sand:
Blood & Sand (Blood & Water / 血水 / XueShui)
30ml cherry brandy (Luxardo)
25ml fresh orange juice
25ml sweet vermouth (Martini)
Shake hard with ice and double strain into a coupette glass; add a twist of orange zest and discard the peel.
I pulled the spirit down a little and upped the cherry after a few variations as the cherry flavours were working really well with the baijiu. All in all really not bad. May have been improved with a slightly heavier brand of vermouth, although something like Antica may go too far in obliterating baijiu tastes which was not my intention. I’d actually consider ordering this if I saw it on a cocktail list in a bar…
Next up was something a little more fruity, but again playing with the sour cherry idea:
El Presidente (Wellbay Presidente)
25ml Shuijingfang Fresh pineapple (giving 60ml juice)
20ml cherry brandy (Luxardo)
10ml fresh lime juice
10ml red berry syrup (1:1 syrup) (alternative to grenadine)
Muddle the pineapple, add other ingredients and shake hard over ice. Strain into a chilled glass and (in this case) garnish with a cherry and pineapple sail.
(this is one of many different recipes with this name, but the most appropriate one for this purpose I thought)
Again this worked out pretty well and was very popular with the Chinese bartenders and customers that I tried it on (colour and garnish were a big plus here!). Nice and fruity, drawing on the fruity aromatics produced in the distillation while knocking down some of the more pungent aromas with the pineapple.
Third up was a Chinese version of Audrey Saunders’s modern classic Earl Grey Martini – a cocktail that seems very popular amongst Chinese customers at the moment.
Earl Grey Martini (Earl Grey Shui)
30ml Earl Grey tea-infused Shuijingfang
25ml Earl Grey syrup (1:1 sugar)
25ml fresh lemon juice
20ml egg white
Dry-shake or whisk the ingredients to emulsify the egg white, then shake long ‘n’ hard with ice. Double strain into a chilled coupette glass and garnish with a dash of bitters to hold down any eggy (and to an extent baijiu-y) aromas.
(The tea and water for the syrup were infused for 5 minutes to draw out plenty of flavour. This is usually made with gin, so the tea flavour needed to be quite strong when used with baijiu as opposed to the lighter spirit)
Not bad, but a very different drink from the original, with a much more pungent flavour – not like the delicate and subtle original. It was still quickly polished off at the bar though (even if not quite at the speed most baijiu is ganbei-ed…).
As I was making an Espresso Martini for a customer at the time, the last cocktail of this session was a Shuijingfang variant.
Espresso Martini (Shuijingfang Express)
25ml coffee liqueur (Kahlua)
Chill the espresso, then shake hard over ice and double strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with coffee beans.
The flavours worked well in this – the coffee knocking down the fruitier baijiu flavours and drawing out the earthier ones. Another I would happily order off a list and one that I had to make a few more ‘samples’ of for customers and other bartenders. The stronger alcohol of the Shuijingfang made it more of a ‘grown up’ version of the standard espresso martini, while the spirit’s sweetness made for a nice rich drink.
All-in-all these worked better than I was expecting to be honest. Maybe my palate is appreciating baijiu more these days, or perhaps using a well-balanced and well-made (if rather expensive) brand like Shuijingfang makes a big difference – I certainly don’t think these would have worked so well with a more pungent ‘sauce’ style baijiu or one with some of the ‘funkier’ distillation impurities/byproducts.
Next step is to try a few more original recipes – plenty of Shuijingfang left, so perhaps a trip to the market and some more experimentation is needed soon.