Any trip to China (especially Beijing) would be incomplete without a sampling of baijiu.
Baijiu is deeply ingrained in Chinese culture. As a traditional means of celebrating, it is commonly drunk at weddings and political dinners.
Baijiu might literally translate as "white wine," but in fact it is much less innocent than that. It is an extremely strong distilled alcoholic beverage with a taste that must be acquired (to put it mildly). Baijiu prices run the gamut, but the Erguotou brand can be seen in every corner store around the capital, where small bottles sell for under a dollar. Subsidized by government funds, Erguotou baijiu is the perfect blue-collar way to get drunk.
Everyone knows where to get it, but few know where it comes from. Beijing is the home base for Erguotou factories, and the China Culture Center periodically offers tours of the Niulanshan factory in northwestern Beijing.
After an hour's drive from downtown, a busload of visitors filed out into the sunshine and open air. The entire group was amazed to find that every breath of air on the premises was heavily laden with an unexpected scent reminiscent of syrup and…bacon.
A steady flow of workers clad in blue coveralls streamed past the visitors, set on reaching their various destinations. A tall smokestack billowed white steam into the chilly Beijing air.
The first destination of the tour was the building where the "light fragrance" baijiu was being distilled. Steaming brown piles of sorghum had been discarded on the concrete just outside the front gates.
Inside, the feeling was more akin to the interior of a barn than a wine distillery. Sorghum was ground up in a machine before a worker spread it out in a giant cylindrical steamer. Men were busy shoveling brown steamed sorghum onto a conveyer belt that carried it up to a destination obscured by plumes of vapor.
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