Whisky Is on the Rise in China. What Does That Mean for Baijiu?

A high-profile whisky launch could herald big changes

Whisky glass
Whisky drinking is on the rise in China.
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There may not be a bottle of Chinese whisky in your liquor cabinet yet, but that could change before long. As InsideHook’s Kirk Miller reported earlier this month, Pernod Ricard recently debuted The Chuan, which originates (mostly) from a distillery in Emeishan. A distillery that shares ownership with the likes of Jefferson’s, Green Spot and Aberlour making moves in China’s prestige whisky market isn’t surprising — after all, there are a lot of potential customers in China.

But there’s another question raised by The Chuan’s debut – what does this mean for baijiu, a spirit that has a long history in China? Earlier this year, Nicola Carruthers at The Spirits Business noted that statistics on alcohol sales in China in 2022 reflected some interesting shifts, with baijiu sales falling and sales of other types of alcohol on the rise. It’s not hard to look at those numbers and see a predictable story of palates and tastes shifting and expanding.

That’s also reflected in a recent Associated Press story about the launch of The Chuan and some of the larger issues at play. The article quotes Raymond Lee of Single Malt Club China — “the longest established single malt specialist in China,” as per their LinkedIn page — who offered some insights into the country’s shifting drinking habits.

“When your economic conditions reach a certain level, you will start to seek your own individuality. Whisky caters just to the consumption mindset of these people,” Lee told the AP. “And its quality is very different from that of other alcoholic drinks.”

Pernod Ricard Just Launched a Whisky Made in China
The drinks giant calls The Chuan “China’s first prestige Malt Whisky”

That said, we’re a long way from seeing baijiu vanish from the scene. The market for it remains large, and there’s plenty of evidence that a shakeup of a nation’s drinking habits doesn’t lead to the old standbys going away. (See also: Budweiser and Coors weathering the rise of craft beer in the U.S.) And it’s worth pointing out that when the Asia Society asked writer Derek Sandhaus — a guy who’s written an entire book about i — about shifting tastes in China, he argued that baijiu’s position was likely to remain stable in the years to come.


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