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Americans warm to Beijing brand liquor
(China Daily)
Updated: 2004-04-04 08:55

Ask any adult Beijinger about Erguotou, a grain-distilled white spirit with over 100 years of history, and you will probably get a smile.

And it may not be too long before Americans get the chance to sample a kind of Erguotao that is considered the best of the best by Beijing's more discerning drinkers.

A deal has been clinched between Red Star Co Ltd, the producer of the Red Star Erguotou, and a US-based alcoholic drink sales company. The premier-grade Diamond Erguotou is set to become available to United States consumers and will specifically be marketed toward high-end cocktail drinkers.

It will follow four other lower-grade Erguotao products into the market.

Erguotou is the most popular white spirit in Beijing due to its affordable price, pure taste and solid reputation.

"It has become a local institution and become fashionable to drink at home and in restaurants with family and friends," said Fan Qing, a foreign company employee who was born in Beijing and has lived in the city for 35 years.

A bottle of Erguotou produced 40 years ago is presented by its owner.
A countless number of overseas visitors or expatriates living in Beijing are also familiar with the spirit.

"We often entertain our foreign clients with Erguotou, which receives a warm welcome," said Fan.

So far, the US company has ordered 20 tons of raw Red Star Erguotou. But the two sides are discussing the mix of Diamond Erguotou, which will be tailored to the American palate, and packaging, sources from Red Star revealed.

However, Red Star declined to disclose the name of the foreign partner, which is one of the five top alcoholic retailers in the United States, and the price of Diamond Erguotou.

"Many things are under discussion and negotiation," said Qiao Junguo, an official with Red Star's International Trade Department.

"We, of course, hope that Diamond Erguotou can be put into the market as soon as possible, but we are not sure of the exact timing."

Several of Red Star's lesser Erguotou products, which are in plain 750 millilitre, 375 millilitre and 200 millilitre bottles and a high-grade blue and white porcelain bottle, are already being sold in the United States.

"The Red Star Erguotou that comes in a plain bottle is sold at US$10 on average, while the blue and white bottle goes for more than US$30," said Qiao.

"The latter has sold well, with 600 bottles being sold out last year. Another 600 bottles have been delivered to the United States."

At present, Erguotou is exported to around 10 nations and regions, such as Japan, South Korea, Italy, the Netherlands, France and Hungary.

"We export about 200 tons of Erguotou each year and the annual sales volume exceeds hundreds of thousand US dollars," said Qiao.

Last year, Beijing Red Star Co Ltd produced 537.40 million tons of the spirit, with sales of 526 million yuan (US$63.37 million).

"Though the exported Erguotou only makes up a minor part of Red Star's output as a whole, it is all high-end stuff, whichhelps the brewer optimize its product structure and promote Chinese traditional products to the rest of the world," said Yan Ligang, a Beijing Commerce Bureau spokesman.

Despite being a hit abroad, Red Star's top-end products are not in such high demand at home.

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