Business / Companies

Spreading taste of nation's fiery white spirit

By MAY ZHOU (China Daily) Updated: 2014-12-16 10:59

Matt Trusch wanted to sell a product that is distinctively Chinese, and he figured what better way than chose a drink shared on special occasions.

So Trusch set his heart on baijiu, a Chinese liquor made of red sorghum, and came up with the name "byejoe-a name that any Joe on the street can pronounce".

"Baijiu is a big part of Chinese culture. At banquets big or small, or when friends get together, you almost always find it on the table. Chinese just can't live without it," said Trusch, the president of Bye Joe USA, headquartered in Stafford, Texas, with an office in Shanghai.

Trusch, sporting a beard and a traditional Jewish kippah (cap), often surprises Chinese people who meet him for the first time when he speaks flawless Chinese.

He is direct about what he wants to accomplish with his new company and byejoe brand.

"A bar is like a mini-United Nations: You find sake from Japan, vodka from Russia, champagne from France, whisky from Scotland and so on; yet there is nothing from China. I want China's liquor to be represented in the mini-UN."

While pursuing graduate studies in Chinese history at Harvard, Trusch decided to trade his academic pursuits for a real Chinese experience by moving to Shanghai in 1997.

Prior to that, he studied Chinese in high school and college, studied abroad in Beijing and Harbin, and worked for Merrill Lynch Asia as an investment banker in Hong Kong and Singapore for a few years.

Trusch mastered Chinese and made a name for himself in his 12 years living in Shanghai after pursuing a career in acting. He starred in numerous TV shows and movies, and became a celebrity of sorts in the country's entertainment industry.

However, after Trusch got married, he and his wife decided to settle down in Houston, Texas, where he grew up.

"When I came back I thought to myself, I want to bring some Chinese culture and history to the US, to the world," he said.

Trusch first encountered baijiu in 1992, while studying at the Harbin Institute of Technology.

"It hit me hard, and I just loved it," he recalled.

But there was another reason for him to make it his mission to bring Chinese liquor to the US. "During World War II, the Chinese saved a lot of my people, Jewish refugees. I felt it was my obligation to introduce some Chinese culture to the world."

He has chosen "Spirit of China" as the tagline for byejoe, and for Trusch it has symbolic meaning.

"China has truly come to the world stage since the 2008 Olympics. It's inevitable that China's baijiu will become a global spirit. If I don't do it, sooner or later someone else will. I want to be the pioneer."

Chinese liquor is divided into three major categories, dependent on aroma: saucy, strong and light, and currently byejoe is marketing the lighter flavor.

To make the Chinese liquor more suitable for the US market, Trusch chose to modify it.

"The original Chinese liquor is usually 50-60 percent alcohol, too strong for Western consumers. We import small batches of the finest liquor distilled from red sorghum in China to the US, where we refilter it to guarantee the product meets the highest international quality standards," Trusch said.

The natural refining process also enhances the purity of the liquor.

"In the end, we get a liquor of ultra-premium quality with smooth flavor. Our 'dragon fire' is infused with dragon fruit, lychee and hot chilies. Essentially we are creating a new liquor category for the US," said Trusch.

Byejoe's packaging also emphasizes China's modernity.

"China has the tallest buildings, the fastest bullet trains. We want to project the image of modern China with a tall and slender bottle like a towering Shanghai skyscraper," Trusch said.

In the West, people rarely drink such strong liquor by itself.

The marketing of byejoe, therefore, is fashioned after vodka and tequila-primarily used to make all sorts of cocktails. So byejoe developed its own cocktail recipes which can be found at

Some cocktail names with byejoe make strong Chinese statements-such as Jade Nights, Sleepy Dragon and Shanghai Moon.

Bye Joe USA is a private enterprise owned by a handful of American and Chinese investors, including Texas' Yao Ming Investments Inc.

From 2011 to 2013, Bye Joe USA spent two years in product research and development, and to obtain the more than 60 different certificates and licenses necessary to sell liquor in the US. Byejoe started sales during the Chinese New Year 2013.

Less than two years into business, byejoe has already won more than 30 medals in international spirits competitions.

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