Chinaful Review: Beijing’s Ming Bar Defies Convention With its “Chatini” Cocktail
Earlier this month, I lured Chinaful’s Courtney Gould Miller, just in to Beijing from LA on business, to the city’s newest speakeasy, Ming Bar, by word that the owner and mixologist had apparently accomplished what most expatriates thought to be the impossible: He had concocted a delicious cocktail using the incredibly potent and typically stomach turning Chinese rice liquor, baijiu (pronounced “bye-j-o”).
Below you can see a picture of Courtney and me about to take our first sip of Ming Bar’s “Chatini.” The word Cha in Chinese translates to“tea,” and in going along with the theme, you can see they have swapped out a typical martini glass with a small and attractive ceramic bowl.
As Chinaful introduced in the past, baijiu is to China as vodka is to Russia. Literally translated, baijiu means “white liquor,” and depending on the region where it is produced, can be made from a variety of grains including rice and sorghum. However, unlike vodka that typically maxes out at about 40% alcohol by content, baijiu can contain upwards 60% alcohol (which is probably why it burns so much to drink).
Let me explain why Courtney and I felt so inclined to taste this “delicious” cocktail for ourselves. When studying abroad in Beijing eight years ago a veteran China expat instilled in me the following piece of advice: Always smell baijiu before you drink it. If it smells like kitty litter you are in the clear. If it smells of feet, throw it away.
Keeping in mind that smell-before-use baijiu is only the case with China’s cheapest brands (the ones that are sold in double-shot glasses and plastic bladders in convenience stores across China), it would certainly border on uncouth if you were caught sniffing your baijiu for hints of feet during a business lunch or dinner. Rest assured that in these instances your baijiu will most certainly be a very nice and expensive brand, and therefore will smell only of the finest kitty litter around.
Without giving away too much of his secret recipe, Ming listed the drink’s ingredients as his own special infused baijiu, tea liqueur, Chinese spiced syrup, egg whites and bitters.
Upon first sip of this carefully crafted and beautiful cocktail, I was personally whisked away to a snowy winter scene, as the cocktail’s chai and other savory spices reminded me of holiday-inspired beverages. On the complete other end of the spectrum, Courtney was transported to the beaches of South America as she said her Chatini tasted a lot like a Pisco Sour. The bottom line is that Ming Bar has developed a complex cocktail that is certainly worth a try.
The only thing stopping people from trying a Chatini is that Ming Bar is members only and requires a fob to open the door. Therefore, if you find yourself in Beijing and dying to try this drink, first head to Ming’s other non-private and Mao propaganda themed bar, Revolution, in Sanlitun (West side of Yashow, Gongti North Road, 工体北路雅秀市场西侧) which is right around the corner from Ming Bar and happens to be my favorite bar in Beijing. While you are persuading the incredibly friendly staff at Revolution to let you into Ming Bar, be sure to try the Worker’s Water, which is their signature drink and incredibly refreshing.