Kweichow Moutai

A gift, from somewhere in China

Kweichow Moutai

The yellowed dictionary circa 1970. The dusty bottle of gin that no one seems to drink but no one throws away, either: These are things that didn't seem to have an origin and you don't imagine will have a demise. They just are. They materialize into your everyday existence, settle onto an out-of-the-way shelf, and there they sit for years. After Armageddon, cockroaches, the dictionary and the bottle of gin will remain.

We're moving. We've just recycled a bunch of empty wine bottles and came across an almost-full bottle of Kweichow Moutai. We acquired it this past Christmas and immediately identified it as one of those things that will be a part of our lives for decades to come, and correctly predicted that "China's national liquor" would spend most of its time on our shelf being ignored.

Even though the bottle's within a black-and-red box, the Kweichow Moutai emits a sharp odor that challenges the nose. A small red box containing what looks like two tiny wine glasses (we'd guess they hold about an ounce) sits on top of the bottle itself. And there are directions, all in Chinese characters, and a sketch of a man who appears to be shooting lasers out of his eyes. Perplexed, we turn to for help:

"Magical Function of Beer in Winter: In winter, people are fond of chafing dish," it says under the heading "Drink Tips." "What is worrisome to them is that too much chafing dish will make them suffer from internal heat." Wait, what?

The bottle's opening looks like a wagon wheel — tilt it sideways and the 106-proof liquid drips slowly from between the spokes. We fill our tiny glass and the scent swells. It's similar to sake or anise, and yet...not. Though the Kweichow Moutai is clear and almost dainty in the wee wine glass, the one-ounce portion scares us. We inhale it deeply through our nose which causes us to pucker and our eyes to water. Do we shoot it? Sip it? Dump it? We shoot.

It tastes like burnt, gummy tissue, but then, that could be our esophagus melting. Our throat feels as though it's got a bad case of windburn and our saliva production is only rivaled by that of our tears. And we've only drank half of it. We take the second half-ounce with more gusto and it's easier than the first. We turn back to Moutai's Web site: "Of course, if beer is drunk when eating chafing dish, its carbon dioxide may bring internal heat out to avoid the scald of food on the mouth, which is even more magical." We actually kind of get it. We return the Kweichow Moutai to its box.

In the next couple of days, it too will be placed into a cardboard box, alongside wine glasses that are wrapped in newspaper. We'll unpack it, put in back on a shelf and, if we move again in a couple of years, we'll repeat the process, packing and unpacking it again. Someday, an observant party guest will spot the dusty, mysterious bottle with the Chinese characters up on a shelf. They'll ask where we got it, and we will give the question a long, thoughtful pause before realizing we haven't the slightest idea.

Got a drink suggestion?

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