Mao Tai memories

Yesterday after a particularly nasty source code integration, Hong mentioned that we should celebrate with a little bit of soju. Discussions of soju led to him mentioning Japan’s version and then me mentioning that the Chinese have a version of their own: the most memorable being the infamous Moutai.

Soju is often cut down with something like lemonade and soda for taste and then drunk with friends in shots from a carafe. Whether cut down or straight, you can get deceptively drunk quite quickly because someone is always filling your glass.

Moutai is very memorable because it’s high alcoholic content (the sip I had of one last Thanksgiving was around 106 proof) and a distinctive grassy aftertaste. I have no clue how the Chinese drink Moutai, I only know that they drink a lot of it. It probably involves a lot of “Gangbei” followed by a quick downing of the entire drink before your brain figures out what you’re doing to it:


In 1995, I met a friend of the family who spent the the 60’s and 70’s studying and teaching Ancient Chinese Art in Communist China. Many of his stories involved having to drink large quantities of Moutai (or small quantities, as one of them involved getting to pick out some moutai at a distillery). He mentioned something in passing that I found very true regardless of the culture: people can’t trust you unless you are willing to drink with them.

I read recently (coincidentally twice: first in a book then again in a newspaper article) that when Nixon went to China in 1972, he brought with him some bottles of Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc sparkling wine as part of the Toast to Peace. What is less well known to Napa fans, was that Zhou Enlai (and Mao Tse-Tung) in return served Nixon Moutai as the national wine.

Here is an interesting anecdote from that event:

Alexander Haig, a Kissinger aide who had experienced the effects of Moutai on a China reconnaissance trip, cabled Washington: “Under no repeat no circumstances should the President actually drink from his glass in response to banquet toasts.”

106 proof “wine”? Yep, that sounds about right.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.