Baijiu: Spirited Essence of China

We had a fantastic time at this Touring the Cocktail: MOTAC Los Angeles event, learning all about Baijiu with Yuan Liu, Director of Business Development at CNS Enterprises, and Manny Burnichon, CEO of Private Cask Imports. Hakkasan's Beverage Manager Tarita Liza Noronha demonstrated several ways to use Baijiu as a base for delightful modern cocktails.

The Chinese invented distilling over 2,000 years ago, but the spirits made there, despite being the world's most widely consumed strong drink, are little-known outside the country. The best are made in a remote region in inland South China, where sorghum is fermented and aged to create flavors from sweet to deeply smoky. These spirits are known as baijiu, and since a variety of them have become more widely available in recent years modern bartenders have discovered them and developed ways of showcasing their unique character.

For more photos of the evening, please visit our Facebook page here. Photos courtesy of Nino Andonis Photography

About the Presenters

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Yuan Liu was born and raised in Beijing, China. At the age of 5, he saw his grandfather drink baijiu with every meal. Yuan says, “I remember he loved seeing my reaction when he had me smell the baijiu in his cup. The smell was very intense and my natural reaction at such a young age was rejection.” However, like generations before him, he grew to enjoy this classic spirit. He immigrated to the U.S. in 1989 to the small town of Farmington, Connecticut. Yuan received a B.A. from the Berklee College of Music in Boston with a major in music synthesis, and then went on to receive an MFA from Cal Arts with a major in composition. Yuan, who is fluent in Mandarin, joined CNS Enterprises in 2013 as the Director of Business Development to support their vision of introducing baijiu, a new and unique spirits category new to the mainstream U.S. consumer.

While it can be challenging, baijiu’s innate ability to bring people together is particularly rewarding to Yuan: “The first experience of drinking baijiu is very special. It brings out a full spectrum of genuine expressions in people, but regardless of their reactions, baijiu always gets people to open up and bond with each other.” In his spare time, Yuan loves spending time with his family, particularly listening to his daughters sing. He also dedicates a large portion of his life to practicing the martial art Aikido.

 

Manny Burnichon grew up in the Beaujolais region of France where his family owned vineyards. He developed a passion for wine at a young age, studied winemaking in France, and made wines in Beaujolais, Burgundy, and then Oregon. Along the way, he received his B.A. in Marketing & Business Management from ISEG LYON, and then an MBA in International Marketing from ISC in Paris.

In his next industry position, Manny was given the opportunity to build then lead the U.S. subsidiary of “Groupe CAMUS,” defining the new strategy that launched CAMUS Cognac into the American market. After five years with Groupe CAMUS, Manny decided to live his dream and start his own company: Private Cask Imports, Inc., a licensed U.S. national importer, brand marketer and developer of international and domestic super-premium spirits and fine wines.

“There is nothing more rewarding than being the owner of your company and having complete control, though it can be challenging at the beginning, to be a jack of all trades,” Manny says, of his business founded in 2013. Private Cask Imports currently represents an impressive portfolio of the No. 1 selling spirit category in the world— baijiu—including famed Moutai and Diageo’s Shui Jing Fang. Though this spirit category is virtually unknown in the general U.S. market, Manny and his partners, CNS Imports, are confident that baijiu has a bright future in America.


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Tarita Liza Noronha brings 13 years of experience in restaurants, bars and brand events to her position as Hakkasan Beverly Hills’ Beverage Manager.  Originating from Toronto, Canada, Tarita moved to New York City in 2001 to turn her passion for food and beverage into a long-standing career. Tarita has since refined her mixology background and is able to foresee innovative trends and incorporate her personal technique to the art of the bar.