What Is Baijiu Made From? (Explained!) 

Image of diy distilling what is baijiu made from explained

There are various spirits produced worldwide, but the lesser known drink (or slowly gaining popularity) is baijiu. Baijiu is a transparent drink made from grain and it’s notorious for its high potency. The type of grain used does affect the drink’s final taste and aroma. So, in this article, we’ll explain what this spirit is made from so you can better understand the aromas it gives off.

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What Is Baijiu?

Baijiu is a clear to light yellow liquor that originates from China. The word Baijiu means “white spirit”. It’s a category of grain spirits produced using traditional fermentation methods. The grain used to make baijiu is typically sorghum because of its high starch content, but the drink can be produced from rice, corn, wheat, or barley.

The final product often has 50%-60% alcohol by volume (100-120 proof). The spirit is categorized into four aromas, namely: 

  • Strong Aroma: Strong aroma is often produced in southern China and has a distinct pineapple aroma.
  • Sauce aroma: Similar to the strong aroma, it’s produced in southern China, but it has a flavor similar to fermented beans and soy sauces.
  • Light aroma: This liquor has an intensely floral-like aroma with undertones of coconut and mint. The spirit is often produced in northern China.
  • Rice aroma: A liquor produced in eastern China, this liquor has cherry-like aromas with notes of rice.
Image of diy distilling what is baijiu and what does it taste like

A History Of Baijiu

Baijiu dates back 9000 years during the Northern and Southern dynasties. The drink was used for ceremonial celebrations and offerings to gods and ancestors. Legend has it that it inspired a lot of Chinese poets into creating classic writings because they felt it brought about a sense of enlightenment.

The rich history of Baijiu shaped Chinese culture and continues to do so. Today, the drink is consumed during weddings, funerals, tomb-sweeping festivals (as offerings to the deceased), and even business meetings. 

What Is Baijiu Made From? 

Baijiu is commonly made from sorghum, but other high-starch grains can be used to make the drink. Sometimes, distillers create a multigrain mash by mixing wheat, sorghum, corn, and rice to bring about complex flavors in the final product. To these grains, mold and water are added to kickstart the fermentation process. Here are a few of the grains that qualify to make the drink.

1. Sorghum

Sorghum (a grain native to Africa) is mainly preferred for making baijiu. Not only does it contain high starch content, but it also produces a high concentration of ethyl in the final product. Sorghum also imparts a much more intense flavor and produces a higher alcohol content by volume. 

2. Corn

Corn is most loved for the strong baijiu it produces once distilled. It’s used for the distinct sweet and spicy flavor it gives off in the final product. 

3. Rice

Rice is a great alternative to sorghum because it’s very glutenous, which helps speed up the fermentation process. When making baijiu using rice, sweet, short-grain rice is preferred because of the fruity notes you get from the distillate. 

4. Wheat 

Similar to sorghum, wheat-based baijiu produces a high-quality, flavorful drink. The final drink often has aromas of honey because of the sugar content of the grain. 

5. Barley

Barely is known to produce a pungent final product, which is why it’s often mixed with other grains to balance out the punchiness of the drink and produce a structured drink.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. What type of alcohol is baijiu?

Baijiu is a grain-based clear liquor produced in China. It’s typically made from distilled sorghum, which gives the drink an intense pineapple-like flavor. What makes the drink so popular is its high alcohol content by volume, which is typically above 50%.

Q2. What grain is baijiu from?

Baijiu is mainly made from sorghum. But wheat, rice, corn, and barley can be used to make the spirit. This is because these grains contain a high starch content which easily converts to sugar during the fermentation process. It’s also good to note that these grains have different flavor profiles which account for the taste of the final product.

Wheat produces a sweeter baijiu which leans toward honey, rice has a more grainy aftertaste, with notes of cherry. Corn is known for the sweet and spicy aromas it gives off, and barely has a more robust and pungent aroma. 


Baijiu is a very popular drink in China that is consumed at almost every ceremony. It’s mainly made from distilled sorghum but other grains with high starch content can be used to make the drink. The grain you choose to use will depend on the flavors and aromas you’re trying to achieve. Though the traditional Chinese method utilizes sophisticated methods of distilling in heavenly pots, a home distiller can replicate the method of using a pot still to enjoy this drink at home.

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