There are three main types of baijiu categorized by their “aroma”: sauce or complex aroma (nutty, earthy flavors with a predominantly sorghum base and fermented in brick pits), strong aroma (floral, citrusy, and fruity made from sorghum, wheat, rice, sticky rice, and corn and fermented in mud pits), and light or mild aroma (neutral with a majority sorghum base, fermented in clay or stone jars). Chinese value strong and sauce aroma baijius the most.
So far, baijiu seems to be an acquired taste for Westerners. During a recent taste test of five baijiu brands, I realized just how much variety there is. I found the sauce/complex aromas hailing from Guizhou in the south of China to be most agreeable. A shot of the Moutai brand delightfully produced a toasted hazelnut flavor cloud in my mouth. The strong aroma styles, which included the Mianzhu Daqu, Jian Nan Chun, Shui Jing Fang, and Luzhou Laojiao, were a mixed bag of aromas and flavors reminiscent of strawberry, pine, tobacco, and chocolate covered blueberries, depending on the brand, and they took on pungent pisco or grappa qualities. A friend of mine summed up the overwhelming tasting experience, saying, “How are all these flavors in here? It doesn’t make sense!”
“People might try one [brand] and not like it; but they vary so widely. But it would be the equivalent of trying gin and saying, ‘Oh I don’t like Western spirits. This is no good,'” Sandhaus says.