Putting China's Most Popular Spirit through the Whiskey Test: Buffalo Trace Whiskey Gives It a Whiskey Makeover

Putting China's Most Popular Spirit through the Whiskey Test: Buffalo Trace Whiskey Gives It a Whiskey Makeover
Courtesy of Buffalo Trace

It is my pleasure to review the new barrel-aged baijiu from this distillery.

It is likely to come to mind brands such as Jack Daniel’s and Jim Beam when you think of the world’s most popular spirits. For good reason, but the names and categories that lead the way are actually ones less familiar to most Americans. Blended whiskies such as Officer’s Choice and McDowell’s dominate the Indian whisky market. The Spirits Business recently announced that Jinro, the world's best-selling soju brand, won the world's best-selling spirit award in 2020. There is no doubt that baijiu is one of the most popular spirits in China due to its immense popularity and the sheer amount of people who consume it there.

There is no doubt that the baijiu market accounted for 31 percent of global spirits volume in 2019, according to the IWSR Drinks Market Analysis. Which brings me to Buffalo Trace, which is unexpectedly a leader in the market for baijiu. A Kentucky distillery took a cue from the Chinese for its latest Experimental Collection release, and decided to give baijiu a shot by treating it as if it were one of its many whiskeys.

Baijiu is a clear spirit commonly distilled from sorghum, however it can also be made from wheat, rice, or corn. If you are unfamiliar with it, it can be distilled from a variety of grains, and it is often bottled with an ABV that is around 50 percent or higher. There is a pungent aroma and a highly assertive palate that can be difficult to handle for the newcomer, with notes of earth, fruit, and umami that are intensely pungent. There is no doubt that this spirit is adored by hundreds of millions of people, a testament to its versatility and wide range of flavors that it comes with, as well as the cultural significance it has in Chinese culture.

There are 24 releases in Buffalo Trace's Experimental Collection, which enables this large distillery to experiment with mash bills, aging, wood used in barrels and blends on a micro level on the basis of their experimental collection. There is a lot to learn about this aged baijiu. Since it isn't actually a whiskey, it falls under the category of "distilled specialty spirit". It was made from sorghum and pea in a mash bill. There are three barrel varieties of new American oak that were used for the aging process: an uncharred barrel, a charred barrel and a toasted barrel, all of which were blended together, chilled filtered, and bottled at 90 proof.

This resulted in a spirit that was both intriguing and weirdly delicious, one where you would think that you were drinking whiskey at certain points, yet at the same time making it clear that you were not. In the nose, honey and vanilla are present along with a touch of spice and butterscotch shell. The sweetness on the tongue is initially sweet, but after a while, it becomes earthy and astringent, with notes of orange, apple and caramel lingering on the back of your tongue as you drink. Towards the end, there is a lingering mix of sweet and sour notes in the taste which reminds me of those odd hard candies you find at the bottom of your Halloween bag once you've gone through all the good stuff in it.


375 mL bottles of the Experimental Collection are usually enough for you to enjoy this particular spirit and sip from them for a few hours. In general, this is a unique and surprising experiment from Buffalo Trace, and it was released in late spring for $46.99 with a suggested retail price of $46.99. The fact that it's listed at online retailers for upwards of $1,000 per bottle is laughable now that you find it there. Nevertheless, if you're looking for something new and unusual, then you should definitely hunt for it.

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