In the mountains surrounding Maotai village in northern Guizhou province, the smell of baijiu, China’s popular sorghum-based liquor, is dizzyingly strong. Visitors claim that they can get drunk simply by catching a whiff of the fiery beverage, which runs between 40 and 60 percent proof, while locals brag that they have baijiu flowing in their veins. And just in case the smell wasn’t pungent enough, Kweichow Moutai Company, China’s largest baijiu producer, erected a massive, seven-story building in the shape of its signature product. Now, a red, white, and blue bottle protrudes from the peak of a nearby mountain, ushering visitors into China’s baijiu heartland.
There are more than 800 registered baijiu businesses in this town of 49,000, but one brand reigns supreme: Moutai (written as maotai in Chinese), a state-owned enterprise valued at $23.5 billion. For years, villagers in Maotai have piggybacked on the company’s success, benefitting as it rose to the top of China’s $76 billion liquor market.
“Everyone who works in Maotai village lives and breathes baijiu, especially the Moutai brand,” said He Yuan, a farmer who harvests sorghum in this northern corner of Guizhou, China’s second-poorest province. “If it weren’t for baijiu, we would live a very tough life.”
But Moutai’s exorbitant price—roughly $300 for a premium bottle—combined with its longstanding links to China’s governing elite have made it an ideal target in President Xi Jinping’s mounting campaign against corruption and extravagance. Though Moutai is officially recognized as China’s “national liquor,” often served at state functions, it is priced beyond the reach of average consumers. And because of this high price, Moutai commonly used a currency in bribes, prompting the popular saying: “Those who buy Moutai never drink it, while those who drink it never buy it.”
Read more. [Image: Adam Century]