It is a little known fact in the West that the world’s most popular spirit is a liquor from China called baijiu, with global sales accounting for more than whisky, vodka, gin, rum and tequila combined.
Some 10.8 billion litres of baijiu (pronounced ‘bye-joe’) were consumed in 2018 – nearly all of it in China, according to UK-based International Wine and Spirit Research (IWSR).
Now, for the first time, a British-made baijiu is being launched to meet the growing demand for the centuries-old drink that is appealing to a new generation of drinkers in the West.
V.I.P Jiu 8 is the brainchild of Irving Graham, an antique dealer from Newcastle who makes his living selling Chinese antiques. The remarkable series of events that led him to create the UK’s first authentic Imperial craft baijiu reads like the script of a Hollywood film.
Back in 2014 Graham bid £300 for a cracked Chinese teacup at an auction in southern England. He later discovered it was a piece from the Imperial Chinese collection once housed in the Forbidden City during the reign of the Kangxi Emperor between 1654-1722.
He went on to sell the cup for £28,000, but not before it offered up one last valuable secret – a handwritten note hidden in its wooden presentation box containing a 300-year-old recipe for a tonic jiu. All nine ingredients had been specially chosen by the Emperor himself.
A few years later Graham embarked on an epic journey across Russia and China on the Trans-Siberian railway, keen to discover more about baijiu and its importance in Chinese culture.
He said: “I learnt that much in the same way whisky is revered as Scotland’s national drink, with a story and history that makes people love the product on a deeper, more emotional level, the same can be said for baijiu in China”.
Irving returned to the UK determined to resurrect the 300-year-old Emporer Kangxi’s recipe in Britain. He spent more than a year conducting intensive trials to revive the recipe, including an in-depth scientific analysis to ensure V.I.P Jiu 8 is equally, if not more, complex than the most popular Chinese baijiu brands.
“I have worked tirelessly with leading experts to bring this ancient imperial liquor back to life while ensuring its authenticity is not lost or compromised during any aspects of the production process”, said Irving.
“The result is a modern yet authentic Imperial craft baijiu of British origin that embraces and celebrates the history and traditions of China’s favourite spirit”.
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V.I.P Jiu 8 is Britain’s first authentic Imperial craft baijiu. It has been made according to a 300-year-old recipe found hidden with a cracked wine cup that once belonged to the Kangxi Emperor of China.
V.I.P Jiu 8 (58% ABV) is an extremely versatile baijiu; it can be drunk neat in small glasses in accordance with Chinese tradition or can be added to cocktails to give them an exhilarating new dimension.
After opening the bottle the first thing you’ll notice is the baijiu’s intense aroma, filled with hints of fresh mint and fennel. One sip reveals a complex interplay between flavours that shift between mandarin, nutmeg, citrus and saffron.
When making V.I.P Jiu 8 only the ‘heart’ of the alcohol produced during the distillation process is used. The heart is the purest, best-tasting part of the alcohol. By using only the heart all the poisons, fats and oils that lurk in the so-called heads and tails created when alcohol is distilled are discarded.
V.I.P Jiu 8 is now being sold to the UK on and off trades in a limited series of distinctively branded 700ml bottles.