Lunar New Year Celebrations: Baijiu’s Traditional Reign Challenged by Whisky

During the Lunar New Year festivities, families and friends come together to enjoy food and beverages, with baijiu, a potent clear spirit, traditionally dominating Chinese celebrations for centuries. Baijiu, distilled from fermented grains, boasts an alcohol-by-Volume (ABV) exceeding 60%, surpassing the potency of spirits like Scotch whisky and tequila.

Despite its entrenched position in Chinese liquor consumption, baijiu faces competition from rising preferences for foreign spirits, particularly whisky, among China’s burgeoning middle class. While Baijiu continues to command over 90% of China’s spirits market, the allure of whisky, especially among younger, urban, and educated demographics, is reshaping consumption patterns.

Whisky sales in China, valued at $2.3 billion in 2022, are projected to triple by 2027, driven by the appeal of less-alcoholic options and changing consumer preferences. International brands like Pernod-Ricard and Diageo are capitalising on this trend by establishing production facilities across China, signalling long-term investment and commitment to the market’s growth potential.

Pernod-Ricard’s $140 million investment in a production base near Emei Mountain and Diageo’s plant in Yunnan Province underscore the strategic importance of China’s whisky market. With whisky currently constituting less than 2% of China’s total spirits consumption, there is ample room for both local and imported players to thrive.

Despite the market’s promise, challenges persist, including limited ageing facilities and skilled professionals in local distilleries. However, the trajectory of China’s wine industry offers a hopeful parallel, suggesting that as whisky production matures, domestic demand may surge, mirroring the evolution of Chinese wines into sought-after commodities.

As Lunar New Year celebrations unfold, whisky’s growing popularity reflects shifting consumer tastes and aspirations, marking a dynamic chapter in China’s evolving spirits landscape. With whisky emerging as a symbol of festivity and sophistication, its role in Chinese culture and commerce continues to evolve, promising new opportunities and challenges for the spirits industry.