Gan bei! Shanghai’s Japanese baijiu club
Before stepping into the restaurant, my Japanese friend warns me one more time, “Everybody here is Japanese. You’re okay with that, right?”
When I first heard about the Japanese Baijiu Hui (Baijiu Club), I immediately connected it with the Japanese gangster group Heilong Hui (Black Dragon Club) -- since they’re both called “hui.” Instead of being full of World War II underground triads though, this meeting is full of members of Shanghai’s Japanese community who enjoy baijiu and good food.
Baijiu club rule 1: Beer first
After Maki introduced me, a glass of beer was poured for me. “Always beer first, before baijiu,” explains Mr. Sakaguchi from Toshiba. I soon learned that Japanese people here always gan bei with a glass of beer before baijiu to get everybody into the celebratory mood.
““Baijiu Hui was started by Mr. Uchidate, a Japanese businessman in Dalian over a decade ago,” Mr. Hayakawa from Mitsubishi tells me. “For Mr. Uchidate, drinking baijiu with his Chinese partners was only about business. They would quickly swallow their drink without tasting it.”
Mr. Hayakawa threw his head back mimicking downing a glass of baijiu.
“But he wanted to drink slowly in order taste it and enjoy it, so he started the hui to gather people to appreciate baijiu.”
Since then, wherever Mr. Uchidate has moved, he has brought the drinking club with him: Beijing, Tokyo, Zhuhai and Shanghai -- the Shanghai hui has the largest membership and Zhuhai hui is the newest group.
Baijiu club rule 2: Drinking by yourself is rude
“Gan bei!” Someone raised their drink and everyone clinked their glasses on the edge of the table. “Rule number two,” says Maki, “is that you can only drink baijiu together with everybody else. Drinking baijiu by oneself is considered rude.” Noted.
Baijiu club rule 3: Talking in small groups is prohibited
“It is rude to talk in small groups when we’re all supposed to be here to appreciate the baijiu,” says Ms. Futaba. “The whole table is supposed to talk about the same topic together. Drinking baijiu is a social activity.”
Mr. Hayakawa chimes in to state that he disagrees with this rule and is quickly on the phone calling the founder Mr. Uchidate for clarification. After a quick conversation he came back to the group with the ruling: “Talking in small groups is not allowed.”
Baijiu club's picks
When asked whether they liked baijiu, the response from the hui was a unanimous “yes” -- why else would they be there?
The two types of baijiu we had at this hui were Luzhou Laojiao from Sichuan and Taohua Tan from Anhui.
“I like the Taohua Tan, it tastes sweet,” says Mr. Otani with an equally sweet smile on his face. “Every region of China has its own baijiu and each has its unique flavor,” he explains. “The bamboo leaf-flavored Zhuyeqing is from Shanxi, the herb-flavored Sanhua Jiu is from Guilin, and the non-flavored Maotai is from Guizhou."
Good to know, but I have one more important question for the group: “So what is the best baijiu you’ve tried?” Everyone seems to agree, the best baijius that they have tried come from Xinjiang.
Mr. Otani is quick to explain though, telling me, “Good baijiu, whatever it is, should be drunk slowly to enjoy its full flavor.”
Contact the Baijiu Club at their Yahoo group or at firstname.lastname@example.org