How To Make Baijiu (A Step by Step Guide)

Making baijiu is an age-old tradition that’s deeply rooted in shaping Chinese culture. While a lot of people detest the taste of baijiu, there might be other spirit lovers who would love to craft their own bottle or two. 

Hopefully, you’re one of those. 

Luckily, you can make a good quality baijiu at home using the traditional home distilling method with a few key ingredients. These include steamed rice, red yeast rice (a suitable Qu substitute), water, and yeast nutrients. From there, you allow the combination to ferment and distill as you normally would with any spirit you make at home. 

If you want the finer details of making baijiu at home, carry on reading this article.

What Is Baijiu?

Baijiu is a clear, punchy grain-based spirit made in China. It dates back to over 5000 years, and it’s been a traditional drink consumed at celebrations and offerings. Though many people are not familiar with the drink, it’s a very popular drink with up to eight billion liters produced and consumed annually. 

Baijiu has an alcohol by volume of up to 62% ABV, and it’s considered one of the most pungent drinks ever produced. 

But the drink is not all vile and moldy, the aromas imparted from the drink range between fruity and floral because of the grains used to make the product. There are up to 12 different aromas of the spirit, but the common ones are:

  • Strong aroma
  • Light aroma
  • Sauce aroma
  • Rice aroma

What is Baijiu Made From? 

Baijiu is made from sorghum, qu, water, and bacteria. Sorghum is known to produce a very intense and punchy drink, which others have described as burnt rubber and rot. But any high starch grain like wheat, rice, and barley can be used. Every grain used affects the notes and aromas of each of the final products.

Once distilled, the spirit is often aged in clay pots to help stabilize it and reduce its potency. 

If you decide to try the drink, make sure you have a bowl of some good hearty meat so that it can cut through the robust flavor of the spirit.

Can Baijiu Be Made At Home?

You can make baijiu at home using the traditional fermentation and distilling methods home distillers use. Instead of using Qu, a mold called koji is used to aid the fermentation process. But, most home brewers use red yeast rice, which works as a great substitute.

How To Make Baijiu At Home (Step-by-step)

Below is a guide on how to make baijiu at home. You’ll find a list of equipment, ingredients, and the process of fermenting and distilling your grains.

Equipment 

  • Pot still
  • Glass jars 
  • Fermenter or bucket
  • Extra bucket (for clarifying the wash)
  • Strainer or large colander
  • Sanitized stainless steel spoon
  • A pot (for steaming rice)

To sanitize your spoon: 

  • Fill a container with 500ml of water.
  • Add 1 Tbsp of baking soda and stir. 
  • Insert the spoon and let it sit in the container for 10 minutes. 
  • Rinse the spoon with warm water.
  • Place it on a clean kitchen towel and allow it to dry. 

Ingredients

  • 25 pounds glutinous rice 
  • 7 gallons of room temperature water 
  • 5 pounds red yeast rice
  • 7 Tbsps yeast nutrient

NOTE: If you decide to use more rice, add another pound of red yeast rice per 5 pounds of rice. 

Selecting Grain/Starch For Making Baijiu

Most grains are suitable for making baijiu because they store energy as starch. So, you can use sorghum, wheat, oats, barley, or rice. You can also create a multi-grain mash with sorghum as the base and add equal parts of the remainder of the grains. For this post, we’ll be using rice. 

Making A Wash For Baijiu

To make a wash, or grainy mush as in the case of baijiu, follow these steps.

  1. Rinse the rice until the water runs clear.
  2. Soak the rice in hot water for an hour (optional).
  3. Pour the rice into a rice cooker or pot and add enough water to cover the rice.
  4. Steam the rice until it’s thoroughly cooked (allowing the rice to cook all the way ensures the red yeast rice penetrates into every grain to kickstart fermentation).
  5. Allow the rice to cool completely at room temperature.
  6. Pour the rice into a fermenter or bucket.
  7. Add the yeast nutrients, red yeast rice, and water. Cover the fermenter with a lid.
  8. Check the ferment every three days and stir the mixture using a spoon.

Fermenting The Wash

It can take up to two months for the mixture to ferment. One way of knowing that the mixture has fermented is by stirring it every three days until all carbon dioxide bubbles are released. Once you notice that the ferment is no longer releasing any bubbles, it’s ready for the next step– clarifying.

Clarifying The Wash

When it comes to deciding what to do with the mush, you have two options:

  • Strain the grains and discard the solids.
  • Use the solid particles in your thumper keg.

Straining the grains

Use a siphon to transfer the liquid from the fermenter to a clean empty bucket. Allow all the liquid to transfer into the bucket. To pour the remaining liquid into the bucket, place a strainer on the bucket and use a spoon to press down the rice to squeeze out the wine. Do this until all the rice grains have been drained of any liquid. 

Adding the solid particles to your thumper keg

If you want the vapors from your still to extract any extra flavors from the grains, adding the solids to your keg is a good option. We’ll discuss how to use the keg during the spirit run in greater detail below.

Good to know: The wine can be drunk as is. You’ll likely get a smooth and fruity drink, but it won’t have a high alcohol content. Since this post is about making baijiu, we’ll carry out the distilling process.

Performing A Stripping Run

Baijiu is often distilled using a single run in what is called a heavenly pot. The pot is run fast and hot. But, we’ll do the traditional way of performing a stripping and spirit run.

Here’s how to perform a stripping run: 

  1. Assemble your still.
  2. Pour the wine into the still.
  3. Heat your still to the highest temperature your condenser can handle.
  4. Allow the mash to heat up, allowing vapors to form.
  5. Start collecting your distillate (low wines) using glass jars.
  6. Turn off your still when the temperature reaches 207°F. 
  7. Wait for all the liquid to collect into the jars.

Distilling The Baijiu

When you distill your spirit, fruity notes will be released from the still. But the final product does mellow down the fruity elements. This is where the potent, burning flavor is derived from. If you decide to add any extra flavors and aromas to your distillate, this is where your thumper keg comes in. Follow these steps to start extracting flavors from your mush.

  1. Assemble your pot still to your keg and condenser.
  2. Add alcohol at the bottom of your thumper till it reaches ⅔ of your keg. You can use some of the fermented wine or fruit juice if you don’t have any (consumable) alcohol lying around.
  3. Heat your still to about 172 ℉ (78 ℃).
  4. Allow the thumper to run and collect your distillate into glass jars.
  5. Once the thumping process is over, turn off your heat source. 

If you’re not using a thumper keg, follow these steps to distill your wine:

  1. Pour the low wines into the still.
  2. Turn on your heat source.
  3. Let the vapors start doing the work of turning into liquid in the condenser.
  4. Make sure you have your glass jars ready to start collecting your distillate and making cuts.

Making Cuts

When you’re ready to start making cuts, make sure you’ve labeled the glass jars so you know what to keep and discard. Follow this process for making cuts:

Foreshots: The first 250ml of the liquid passing through your pipes is the foreshots. As with every distillate, these chemicals serve no edible purpose in your drink. It’s best to use them as a window cleaner or for other general purposes.

Heads: The heads will carry some fruity and floral aromas. You can keep this aside and mix it with the tails to make Erguotou.

Hearts: When the still reaches 179 ℉, this is usually when the ethanol gets released. You can start collecting the hearts at this point. The hearts carry all the pleasant fruity, spicy, and floral aromas.  

Tails: You’ll start collecting the tails towards the end of your run. You’ll recognize tails from the overpowering rice smell it gives off. Tails are also collected towards the last half a gallon remaining of the wine.

From here, you can start sniffing and sipping to assess which parts of your distillate to keep as your spirit. Pour your final product into glass jars and give it two weeks to stabilize before you start drinking it.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you distill baijiu?

If you’re distilling a solid ferment at home, you can set up a false heavenly pot by using a boiler, filter plate (to allow the steam to pass through), and a keg (to put your solids in) and follow these steps:

  • Fill your boiler with water.
  • Connect the tri-clam ferrule to the filter plate.
  • Place the plate on top of the boiler, and the keg on top of the plate.
  • Run it as you would a normal still.

If you’re using a semi-solid and liquid ferment, sieve any solids using a strainer, then distill it as you normally would any other spirit. You can even add strained solids to your keg so the vapors can extract flavors from the grains to add complex aromas to your final spirit. 

Is baijiu made from rice?

Sorghum is the primary grain that’s used to make baijiu, but you can make the spirit from rice. The idea is to make the spirit from any grain with a high starch content because the starch converts very easily to sugars. 

If you decide to use rice, go for glutinous rice because it typically has a lot of starch, and it yields high alcohol by volume.

Conclusion

The traditional way of making baijiu is an elegant and fascinating process to work, and it takes a lot of hard work. Luckily, you can make baijiu at home using ingredients available at your local grocery or Asian store. It requires steaming your grains, adding mold (or red yeast rice), and water.

From here, you let the concoction ferment at room temperature for up to two months, then distill as you normally would. If you fancy a good bottle of baijiu, this method guarantees that you always have one at your disposal.

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