Tucked away down Houston Street, at a spot you're likely to miss if you don't know that you're looking for it, sits Lumos, a Chinese speakeasy.
For a number of reasons, Lumos is a wildly unique bar experience. Of course, that begins with their liquor of choice, Baijiu. But what is Baijiu?
Depending on who you ask, it might conjure some, well... let's go with unpleasant. People have mistakenly explored Baijiu under the impression that it's just some kind of Chinese liquor you can dive right into.
Lumos is the first bar outside of China serving Baijiu, a unique type of liquor perfectly adaptable to any taste you have
Then they have a bad experience and try to tell you that it's something between paint thinner and something decidedly sinister.
Stop listening to those people. It's an oft misunderstood liquor, and it's actually one of the world's most distributed. But it's primarily Western culture that jumps into the generalizations of, "No, it's this one thing, and it's terrible."
And because of that, unfortunately, Baijiu isn't really served in America because most Americans have absolutely no idea what the liquor is. To clear all of this up, we went to Lumos, the first bar outside of China serving Baijiu, a unique type of liquor perfectly adaptable to any taste you have.
There we tried many different types of Baijiu in many different forms because to understand anything at all, especially food and liquor, you need context.
Luckily for New Yorkers, Lumos, with intensely knowledgeable bartenders that can explain the liquor in-depth, you can get that context.
Suffice it to say, Baijiu is wildly delicious, but wildly misunderstood. Educate yourselves here, and then head over to Lumos to put that education into practice. They're shifting that discussion from the classic scoff to a savored sip.
So. What do you need to know about Baijiu? Read on.
1. Baijiu is more of a broad category of alcohol than an specific liquor
When you think of Baijiu, don't think of it as a tequila, whiskey, or vodka. Generally, when you think of tequila, there are so many different brands of tequila, but they all have relatively similar characteristics with slight flavor and color variations.
Sure, we know Don Julio tastes significantly different than, say, Jose, but they have more in common with Hennessy or Grey Goose. One Baijiu could be as different as another as Patron is to Jameson.
As the leading liquor in China, there are so many brands producing Baijiu that the flavor profile becomes muddled. You could have a smooth Baijiu with flavors similar to honey, where as another could be reminiscent of an astringent soy sauce.
Remember, just because you've tasted one Baijiu, does not mean that you've tasted all Baijiu. Keep an open mind and you'll most likely be pleasantly surprised.
2. It has a very high ABV
Remember that friend who did a semester abroad in China and got schwifty on Baijiu, thus swearing off the liquor for good and forever? That friend was certainly either unaware of the fact that Baijiu packs a seriously heavy punch (think 30%-60% ABV), or they simply didn't care.
What is 30% - 60% ABV? That's equivalent to 60-120 proof alcohol.
Baijiu is not meant to be consumed rapidly in high volumes. It's usually served in small cups similar to shot glasses, especially at ceremonial occasions.
However, refills are generally acceptable. Though it's critically important to remember that vodka typically has an ABV of 40%, where Baijiu is often around 60%.
It's also a good idea to drink it with food which will slow the body's absorption of the alcohol into the blood stream (more so than on an empty stomach). Of course, if you're drinking any liquor on an empty stomach, then you're just making poor life decisions.
3. It is a drink meant to be savored
Put away that beer bong (or whatever other drinking paraphernalia you prefer) and learn to savor the flavor and texture of Baijiu.
Think of it in terms of a Scotch rather than a sour mash whiskey like Jack. Like we said before, Baijiu is traditionally drank in small portions, usually after a toast to celebrate something or someone. It's not a shot you clank on the table.
While they are served in glasses similar to shot glasses or in actual shot glasses, it's not necessarily to shoot them. You can drink Baijiu hot or cold, but it all depends on the whichever unique flavor profile of Baijiu you are drinking.
4. It's a wildly versatile drink
We've honestly never encountered a liquor that has such a wide range of versatility. You could try hundreds of different Baijiu cocktails and still be surprised by the complexity of their flavors.
Because it has so many different flavor profiles depending on the grain used and the process from which it's created, you can create exceptionally different drinks, all from one liquor.
Furthermore, Baijiu can be infused fairly easily which means that you can create drinks like Lumos' "Spring of the East" with Baijiu-infused rosemary, yuzu, grapefruit/campari bitter, rice wine, and pamplemousse rose.
Or, you could go another spectrum and have a spicier cocktail with the "Goji;" goji-infused Baijiu, mezcal, pink grapefruit, lime, agave, and orange bitters.
Want something sweeter? Try the "Red River" with Baijiu, vodka fair, watermelon, tarragon, combier, pink peppercorn, lime, and agave.
5. Though it's commonly called rice wine, it has nothing to do with wine
Many people attempt to describe Baijiu by comparing it to rice wine, but Baijiu, a liquor derived from sorghum, doesn't have anything to do with rice wine.
Rice wine, known as mijiu, is created through the fermentation of rice starches.
However, Baijiu is created by fermenting grains, traditionally sorghum, though other grains such as glutinous rice are common in some areas of China.
This misconception stems from the fact that Baijiu was once given the nickname of sorghum wine, leading many to think it's synonymous with rice wine.