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We Taste Every Moutai Baijiu from 5 to 30 Years: Flying Fairy, Xiang Yi Wu Zhou, Chai You, Chen Niang & 15 Years

 

 

The legendary Kweichow Moutai baijiu needs little introduction. Within the quaint Rivertown of Moutaizhen in southern China lies a liquid empire that dwarfs the combined value of Diageo’s 30-odd Scotch distilleries. While often referred to by its shorthand, “Moutai”, it’s important to note that Kweichow Moutai is simply the most renowned one of the numerous baijiu distilleries in Maotaizhen. It is their particular brand of Sauce Aroma baijiu – a nutty-umami style of baijiu unique to its region – that captured the nation’s taste buds and became this ever-present fixture wherever there are Chinese communities, gracing celebs weddings, festivals, and business dealings.

Crafted from fermented sorghum grains, Moutai's production is deeply influenced by the unique terroir and microclimate of Maotaizhen. The grains are fermented with a proprietary wheat-based jiuqu (baijiu starter) that has been naturally cultivated within the environment of the river town for over three centuries.

 

The town of Moutai, or Moutaizhen.

 

The proprietary starter teems with special strains of Bacillus bacteria that are essential to the creation of tetramethylpyrazine, a key compound that imparts Moutai's signature savoury, nutty flavour. All this is produced during an intensive fermentation process at the distillery, a marathon that can last up to 45 days in traditional stone brick pits.

 

Tetramethylpyrazine is a nutty, musty compound found in cocoa beans, peanuts, soy sauce… and yes, Moutai.

 

Following fermentation, the solid grain mixture undergoes at least seven rounds of distillation at Moutai. The resulting pure spirit is then aged in large terra cotta clay jars. These jars, stored in a cool, dark environment, play a crucial role in the maturation process. The porous clay not only imparts subtle mineral notes but also allows oxygen to gently permeate the spirit, facilitating a gradual oxidation that softens the harsh edges and mellows the baijiu over a period of at least 4 to 5 years.

 

Master Blender Zhong Lin is one of only 10-odd Class 1 blenders of Kweichow Moutai Distillery's over 20,000 employees (Source: China Daily)

 

The final act of baijiu production involves Moutai’s respected master blenders who show up in white laboratory coats. Out of the over 20,000 employees at Moutai, only a handful, a mere 10 or so, hold the title of master blender. Becoming a master blender requires not only an extraordinary sensitivity to aroma and flavour, but also decades of experience. Perhaps it's no surprise that many of these master blenders – including Master Blender Zhong Lin – are women, often believed to possess a superior palate. Master Blender Zhong Lin began her career in Kweichow Moutai’s blending team in her 20s, when she stopped wearing cosmetics and perfumes, and even swore off spicy food – a big sacrifice for someone who grew up in the spice-loving province of Guizhou. Now in her early 50s, she remains committed to her craft as a top blender in the company. Blenders like her act as pretty much the distillery’s guardians of taste, meticulously sampling hundreds of batches of spirit, expertly combining them with one another and with water sourced from the Chishui River to create the final product that is bottled as Moutai baijiu.

 

 

By now, you’re likely familiar with the hype surrounding Kweichow Moutai and those iconic white porcelain bottles – the classic spirit is labelled as Five Star Moutai (for the domestic market) and Flying Fairy Moutai (for the export market). But did you know that these familiar white bottles are just the base tier offering in Moutai’s product range? 

 

  

There are at least 6 more tiers above the basic Moutai baijiu – as we ascend this ladder we encounter Moutai expressions with progressively longer aging periods that culminated in the top tier Age-Statement Moutai that range from 15 to 30 years of maturation. There are also special tiers that showcase the master blenders’ virtuosity in marrying spirits of different vintages.

 

 

I had the chance to attend a masterclass led by One Minor's CEO, Patrick Sng, where we delved into the nuances of a couple of these rare bottlings. We will begin with (1) Feitian Moutai and (2) Xiang Yi Wu Zhou "Tiffany Blue" Moutai editions that are mainly composed of baijiu bottled after Moutai’s standard production process of 4 to 5 years aging. We will then explore extra-aged editions like (3) Chai You Moutai, (4) Xiang Chen Xiang Moutai and (5) Moutai 15 Years.

I’ve also included the escalating prices to reflect the increasing rarity and age of these expressions. Let’s begin this journey of rare Moutais!

 

 

Kweichow Feitian Moutai 贵州飞天茅台酒, 53% ABV – Review

Aged 4 to 5 years, blended with a small component of 10-years-old baijiu. RRP of around $550.

 

Tasting Notes

Nose: Fresh, piquant, estery and savoury. The aroma fills the room from the moment it’s poured. Opens with fresh Asian peaches and aromatic white chocolate leading the way, followed by a light grassy funk and hints of overripe banana and plum. After it breathes for a bit, a delicate caramelised nuttiness emerges, reminiscent of black sesame syrup, sweet Peking duck soy sauce, the light umami of toasted seaweed-wrapped rice crackers and a subtle note of dry black tea leaves.

Palate: Crisp, complex, savoury and smooth. Opens with sesame, white chocolate, and hay, accompanied by the sweetness of honey and nectarines intensifying, accompanied by a slightly solvent kerosene note that lingers due to the spirit's viscous, oily texture. Aromatic grains reminiscent of barley or steamed rice add depth and complexity, seamlessly integrated with a moderate, whisky-like warmth and spice that's counterbalanced by the Moutai's rich flavourfulness. While there's a heat and spice comparable to a cask-strength whisky, it's well balanced by the overall richness of flavour.

Finish: Long, distinct, and enduring. It’s got a fading nuttiness of lotus seed paste that transitions into a warm, lingering umami earthiness, echoing the sweet Asian peaches, before culminating in a zesty, prickly dryness and warmth that lingers at the back of the throat.

 

 

My Thoughts:

The Feitian Moutai is a bold, savoury, and complex spirit, flavourful yet elegant in its own unique way. There is a bit of heat and intensity may slightly scare newcomers, but no more so than a whisky of the same ABV. In fact, it's precisely this boldness of flavour that I expect many spirits enthusiasts - especially of cask strength rum or whisky- to adore.

Objectively, it's an aromatic and delicious baijiu. It’s also got sufficient boldness to be paired with various hearty Asian dishes.

Kweichow Moutai Xiang Yi Wu Zhou “Tiffany Blue” 贵州香溢五洲 蒂凡尼蓝, 53% ABV – Review

Aged 4 to 5 years, blended with a “slightly larger” component of 10-years-old baijiu. This bottle also comes in an attractive “Tiffany blue” colour. RRP of around $1,220.

 

 

Tasting Notes

Nose: Fresh, estery and savoury – this is notably more perfumed and floral than the standard Feitian Moutai, its pungent notes smoothed into a mellower presentation. Sweet Asian peaches mingle with rich, fresh florals and a delicate touch of white chocolate. Black sesame syrup gradually comes to the fore along with that iconic umami of toasted seaweed-wrapped Japanese rice crackers, but overall, the aroma is significantly cleaner, devoid of any funkiness or black tea leaves.

Palate: Very similar to the Flying Fairy but boasting a pronounced nuttiness. It’s got that same viscous, tongue-coating texture, but it opens with heavy toasted black sesame notes, integrated with hay, honey, and nectarines. The profile is cleaner still, the slightly solvent kerosene note from the earlier expression is significantly muted. There’s also aromatic grain notes reminiscent of barley and steamed rice that comes beautifully integrated. The heat and spice comparable to the Flying Fairy expression persists.

Finish: Seems slightly longer, culminating in a lovely aromatic woodiness. The fading sesame nuttiness lingers, accompanied by a hint of dry sandalwood.

 

 

My Thoughts:

While the Tiffany Blue shares the complexity and many similar notes with the Feitian Moutai, two key differences stand out: the more prominent nuttiness and sesame aroma, and a much more refined, "polite" character. It's still a warm spirit, but the edges are much more rounded, resulting in a more elegant and balanced profile.

I find myself enjoying this just as much as the Feitian Moutai, but for different reasons. The earlier expression has a more exhilarating boldness, while the Tiffany Blue offers more of a balanced complexity with refined mellowness.

Kweichow Moutai Chai You 贵州茅台彩釉, 53% ABV – Review

Aged 5 to 10 years. RRP of around $1,650.

 

 

Tasting Notes

Nose: Significantly fruitier and more luscious than younger expressions, the Chai You opens with a heady bouquet of of sweet Asian peaches, fresh lychees and mangosteens mingling with the savoury notes of sweet oyster sauce and light sesame sauce. The fruit takes centre stage, yet the savoury oxidative complexity remains a constant undercurrent with umami soy sauce, fragrant dried florals, and a whisper of tea leaves.

Palate: This is yet more savoury than the earlier expressions. It’s got a burst of savoury unagi sauce intertwined with a dry, toasted black sesame that coats the tongue, gradually giving way to summer fruits, the sweetness of lychee and peach emerging as the soy sauce notes subside. There’s also a surprising depth of flavour coming some dried Da Hong Pao red tea leaves.

Finish: Remarkably long, marked by a surge of brighter sweetness and luscious fruitiness. Plums, lychees, and peaches dance on the tongue, intertwined with a sweet grain note and a fleeting hint of Magic Marker. It’s also got a lingering whisper of roasted sesame.

 

 

My Thoughts:

This is mellow, elegant, and profoundly complex. The classic savoury nuttiness of Sauce Aroma baijiu is in full effect, yet it's beautifully integrated with a sweet fruitiness that gradually emerges on the back palate. It’s interesting to note that the more you age a Moutai, the more savoury notes begin to emerge. The bright fruitiness persists and comes forth more fully on the finish. The alcohol is also remarkably smooth, with less heat still than younger expressions, making it really easy to imbibe.

Kweichow Moutai Xiang Chen Niang 贵州茅台陈酿, 53% ABV – Review

Aged for more than 10 years, blended with components up to 30 years. RRP of around $2,150.

 

 

Tasting Notes

Nose: Incredibly mellow and rounded, with no alcoholic sharpness whatsoever. Very refined fragrance of toasted sesame, tea leaves, and a touch of tobacco intertwines with fresh lychees, peaches, and plums, all underpinned by a mild grain sweetness.

Palate: Thick, viscous and profoundly smooth. Opens with aromatic grain notes, reminiscent of light toasted barley and cereal, gradually and elegantly evolving to showcase more toasted sesame, roasted almonds, and a lightly savoury soy sauce, even hinting at aged oak and milk chocolate. There is also a bright sweetness of fresh peaches that persists throughout albeit that the palate is more dominated by savoury character.

Finish: Long and elegant. The aroma turns drier, with tea leaves and the continued presence of toasted sesame, while a light fruitiness of fresh peaches and delicate floral notes linger.

 

 

My Thoughts:

It's expressive, layered and glides down effortless in a way that defies its 53% ABV. This is the most impressive of the five expressions we've tasted. There are no sharp alcohol fumes or off-notes (think kerosene or solvent) to be found and the layers of flavour are complex and beautifully balanced with alcohol seamlessly integrated, providing warmth without any biting harshness.

It's also quite challenging in the sense that the subtleties demand your full attention, like an orchestra playing softly in the background. If you aren’t paying attention, you might miss the best part of it people will talk about later. While baijiu is traditionally enjoyed with food, this particular expression deserves to be savoured on its own to allow its nuances to shine through.

Kweichow Moutai 15 Years 贵州茅台15年, 53% – Review

Aged exactly for 15 years. RRP of around $2,000.

 

 

Tasting Notes

Nose: Also very mellow, though a slight prickle of the alcohol adds a touch of liveliness. A burst of bright fruits takes centre stage, brimming with lychee, plum, and a nuanced bitterness reminiscent of grapefruit and its rind. Subtler notes of light toasted sesame weave themselves in along with the classic soy sauce and a some rancio.

Palate: A thick, viscous texture, smooth and mellow but noticeably bolder in flavour than the Chen Niang. Classic Sauce Aroma notes of soy sauce and toasted sesame greet the palate, gradually unfolding to reveal more savoury richness, hints of fermented black beans and sautéed mushrooms. There’s a just-as-present vibrant fruitiness - a familiar medley of Asian peaches, plums, and florals returns, but here, there is a subtle sourness that emerges along the dry tannins of grape skins.

Finish: Long and elegant, marked by lingering tea leaves and the persistent aroma of toasted sesame. A gentle fruitiness of fresh peaches and delicate florals lingers, culminating in a dry warmth and a minty spiciness that make their presence known on the back of the throat.

 

 

My Thoughts:

Full-bodied, complex and undeniably well-aged. Interestingly, although this expression has an average age higher than the Chen Niang (a blend of several vintages) both boast of a similar depth. The Chen Niang also seems to achieve a smoother, more elegant integration of flavours. This 15-year expression has a slightly more raw character that calls back to the standard white bottle Moutai - even showcasing some sour notes and some alcoholic bitterness that slightly detract from the overall refinement.

Overall, this is an exceptional spirit but perhaps not as seamlessly blended as the Chen Niang.

Final Thoughts:

It’s not every day you can do a Moutai flight and what a treat this has been to have this window into Moutai’s artistry!

 

 

A few interesting observations can be noted. Every expression in this Moutai lineup showcases the rich, savoury, nutty character that makes Moutai famous, alongside a dimension of bright fruitiness. But it's fascinating how aging Moutai doesn't just mellow it, but seems to amplify those savoury notes, likely stemming from the oxidative process.

 

 

The most impressive bottle among these five is undoubtedly the Moutai Chen Niang. It is an impeccably clean spirit with layers of complex flavours. It seamlessly integrates fruit, oxidative notes, and character and is incredibly easy to drink as it glides down effortlessly. And yet this technically isn’t the oldest expression – by average age, the Moutai 15 Years is the oldest of our flight. The Chen Xiang, however, is a product of meticulous blending of various vintages by Moutai’s master blenders, which may explain how the whole is more elegant than the sum of its parts.

That said, it's important to note that "better" is not always synonymous with the older or the more expensive. As we venture into the realm of older Moutai, the spirit becomes so mellow that while orthodox baijiu connoisseurs might appreciate this, I reckon that most spirits enthusiasts may still prefer the bold flavours and even a touch of sharpness found in younger editions like the Feitian Moutai or Tiffany Blue bottle.

Ultimately, as clichéd as this may seem, the best Moutai is the one that resonates most deeply with your palate and the occasion. Personally, I lean towards the younger expressions for their vibrant fruitiness. The balance I seek leans towards something slightly bolder and rawer, making me more fond of both the Feitian Moutai and Tiffany Blue bottles.

If you're based in Singapore and keen to obtain one of these bottles - or just check them out - look to Crystal Wines' online store

@CharsiuCharlie