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Moutai sets sights on Europe's drinkers

By ANGUS McNEICE ( China Daily UK )

Updated: 2016-12-08

Moutai sets sights on Europe's drinkers

A bartender mixes cocktails using Moutai at a launch event in Hamburg. [ANGUS MCNEICE/CHINA DAILY]

Iconic liquor brand Moutai, for decades the toasting drink of choice during visits to China of foreign leaders and dignitaries, chose the northern German port city of Hamburg to launch its bid to bring the fiery spirit to mainstream Europe.

Tuesday's gala launch in the city famed for its entertainment culture was part of a global effort to bring Moutai to the masses. Company Chairman Yuan Renguo said it made strategic sense to launch Moutai's European ambitions from Hamburg, given Germany's strong brewing culture and the city's status as a major port through which about half of German foreign trade with China moves.

"Today, if you mention Germany to Chinese people they often think of beer," he said."In time, Germans will see Moutai as one of the symbols of Chinese culture."

While Moutai is a mainstay at formal celebrations in China, its exposure among Westerners is largely limited to business people who have made trips to China. Its status was secured when Richard Nixon and Premier Zhou Enlai enjoyed a glass during the former US president's visit to Beijing in 1972.

Moutai ramped up its international operations in 2014 when it held a banquet in San Francisco and promotional efforts saw hip bars in New York add Moutai cocktails to their menus. Export revenue increased by nearly 70 percent in the first half of this year, Yuan said, with annual sales on course for $6.4 billion across 60 countries. The company is taking out ads in major publications and plans another gala for early 2017 in Paris.

At the Grand Elysee hotel in Hamburg, 300 guests were served the sorghum-derived baijiu drink in three cocktails designed by a German bar's catering service.

"We had a lot of fun, but it was the most difficult time we've had making a new cocktail because it's such a different taste," said Alexander Brittnacher, founder of Next Level Cocktails."It's really complex and really strong."

At 53 percent alcohol content by volume, Moutai is more potent than most liquors and Brittnacher said its distinct flavor made it challenging to balance in a standard lime and sugar-based cocktails.

Moutai is in talks with a Paris-based cocktail manufacturer to sell pre-mixed drinks on the international market, and the company is scouting a location in Frankfurt for its own cocktail bar

Moutai's European strategy will also focus on Chinese restaurants, according to An Huailun, managing director of Moutai's imports and exports.

"Drinking culture and eating culture are very much related and we are going to enter the market partly through Chinese food," he said."We are cooperating with many Chinese restaurants in Europe- mainly the leading ones."

The liquor will sell in stores for around 149 euros ($160) per 500ml bottle. In the UK, a good 750 ml bottle of single malt Scotch whisky costs around 30 pounds ($38).

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