Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Baijiu at The Oriole

Ways to travel through time and place:

  1. BBC period dramas
  2. Time machines
  3. Drinking dens

Having tried all three (no. 2 courtesy of a multi-talented friend), I wanted particularly to dwell a little on the third, apropos of a recent journey to The Oriole.

Baijiu and other Fantastic Beasts at The Oriole

A few Sundays ago, I returned from an expedition that took me across Africa, Europe, Asia and the Antipodes. A journey that began with a tube journey to Bank station, a brisk walk to Farringdon, ending with a tumble down the rabbit hole into the underbelly of Smithfield Meat Market. Fantastic beasts were sighted, exotic ingredients tasted, and colonial knick-knacks contemplated…in the Oriole’s sumptuous basement, the odyssey began.

The oriole

Joined by a group of dauntless bucaneers, swashbucklers and gastronomes, we got to know one of China’s best kept secrets/ most fantastic beasts: Baijiu.

We talked it about it a little last year. To refresh our memories, doubtless hazy after the endless Christmas turkey and mulled wine, Baijiu is the “spirit of China” – literally and metaphorically. Distilled from sorghum and other grains, it weighs in at a punchy 40-60% ABV smelling of concentrated peardrops.

So now you know the nature of the beast.

In particular, The Oriole were showcasing Yang He Baijiu that evening:

tianzhilan yanghe baijiu

Tian zhi lan Baijiu: “Sky Blue”, in a stylish and curvaceous bottle.

Yanghe’s UK brand ambassador  provided an intro to the drink’s history, followed by cocktail expert Paul Mathew‘s tips on using Baijiu in cocktails (I hear a book on this subject is in the pipeline. You heard it here first). As co-owner of The Hide Bar in Bermondsey, The Arbitrager and also Demon and Wise & Partners in the City, Paul is if anything overqualified to talk about this subject. His personal brush in with Baijiu happened during his four years in China as a diplomatic spouse, where he consulted with Diageo on its baijiu brand, Shuijingfang.

Paul Mathew

Paul, with customary Baijiu in hand

As Paul talked, we were served round after round of Oriole classics as well as its Baijiu creations.

All washed down with a glass of pure Baijiu for good measure.

(Actually, Yanghe is the easiest Baijiu I’ve tried, not a shred of resemblance to aviation fuel).


Apparently the stereotype about Northeners is true, since after all this I was still lucid enough to take notes on what to pair with Baijiu in cocktails:

Flavours that work with Baijiu

  • Stone fruit
  • Tropical fruit
  • Chilli
  • Szechuan Pepper (Szechuan being the cradle of Baijiu production)
  • Sour flavours such as vinegars and shrubs



Food and cocktails flowed with all the force of the Nile in Monsoon season, served in some remarkable receptacles that made it feel like we were partaking in a ceremony of sacrifice.


The Bayou “croctail” 🙂 |
Containing Woodford Reserve Bourbon, absinthe treacle, yellow grapefruit, pepper and trompette de la mort (trumpets of death) mushrooms



The Duke of Savoy |
Courvoisier VSOP, Hazelnut Sugar, Quince Cordial and Calvados.
Photo credits: The Oriole

Drinks were of a distinctly culinary bent, with cabbage syrups, cheese crackers and dragonfruit garnishes, truly “the fruits of exile, empire and exploration.”


We also gave the Baijiu cocktail menu our special attention, being the courteous people that we are.


From left:
Meihua Shan (Baijiu, Rosolio, Juniper, Chou syrup, Lemon), Suqian Negroni (Baijiu, Campari, Mastiha, Americano Cocchi), Asian Delight (Baijiu, Gin, Turkish delight wine, Osmanthus syrup, Ginger beer)

And it turns out that Baijiu, once tamed with the various flavours noted above can make for a very refined long drink.


After alcohol, comes sugar.

So if it’s silk fans, satin curtains and looted bounty in your cocktail that you’re after, follow the golden Oriole bird to East Poultry Avenue and say,

Open Sesame.


PS –

Baijiu Cocktail Week 2017 is just around the corner…