The drink that has sealed millions of Chinese business deals is about to go on sale in London, after Diageo agreed a UK distribution deal.
China's most popular liquor, baijiu, a 52 per cent proof white spirit drunk as a toasting drink at celebratory meals, will be available at high-end Chinese restaurants in the capital as well as upmarket department stores and hotels.
The drinks giant Diageo bought a controlling stake in the company that owns Sichuan baijiu brand Shui Jing Fang to capitalise on the influx of wealthy Chinese customers to Britain and the growth in China's luxury consumers.
Shui Jing Fang is the oldest distiller on record, dating back 600 years. Likened to firewater by some, the clear liquid with an over-ripe fruit smell, followed by floral and even cheese flavours, is an acquired taste for the European palette.
The bottle, which retails at £99, is a "super luxury" spirit to be sold for "gifting, consuming with a meal or a premium treat". Diageo UK director Andrew Cowan said: "There are 4,500 authentic Chinese restaurants in the UK and we would like to educate the western palette as well as sell to the consumers that know the brand."
Diageo is selling the drink through the London-based Chinese supermarkets and restaurants supplier SeeWoo, which has stores in London and Glasgow and supplies upmarket restaurants including Hakkasan and Shanghai Blues.
At a launch event at Royal China in Baker Street last night dignitaries, including Tang Li, the Chinese consul general to the UK, and Keith Vaz MP, heard that the Chinese market in the UK, including visitors and residents of Chinese origin, is more than 2 million.
Buyers from the upmarket stores Fortnum & Mason and Harrods are considering stocking the drink while other restaurants, hotels and bars being targeted include The Dorchester's China Tang.
Diageo built up a stake in the owner of the Shui Jing Fang brand last year. It now owns 53 per cent in Sichuan Chengdu Quanxing Group, the largest shareholder in Sichuan Shui Jing Fang.