Koray Özcan / The 4th International Distilled Spirits Technology Forum

28 March 2024

Our journey to introduce our raki and anise to the international world of science and alcoholic beverages has a new destination: China...

China, one of the oldest civilizations in the world, also boasts one of the fastest-growing economies. With its blend of modern cities and millennia-old history, it offers a unique fusion of the past and the present. As you may know, China has been the birthplace and developer of many innovations throughout history, from papermaking to the compass, from printing to gunpowder, from tea production to silk. One cannot overlook China's influence in the realm of alcohol and alcoholic beverages. Archaeological findings suggest that the Chinese were producing alcohol through the fermentation of rice, honey, and fruits some 9,000 years ago, and their national spirit, Baijiu, has a history dating back nearly 4,000 years.

The 4th International Distilled Spirits Technology Forum (IDSTF-China 2023) took place in Yibin, Sichuan Province, known as the capital of distilled alcoholic beverages in China, from December 17 to 21, 2023. Attended by over 500 participants from around the world, I had the honor of participating as a speaker, presenting our raki and anise to the international world of science and alcoholic beverages. It's truly difficult to put into words the pride I felt in this endeavor...

When I received an invitation to participate in this conference from the Chinese Institute of Alcoholic Beverages after my raki presentation at the World Distilled Spirits Conference in Scotland in May 2023, I honestly didn't realize the international significance of this conference held in China or the level of investment and advanced work China has put into alcoholic beverages. This conference and trip changed my perception. I have no doubt that in the coming years, we will see the influence of China prominently in the alcoholic beverage market.

Speaking of the content of the 4th International Distilled Spirits Technology Forum, experts from universities, research institutes, alcoholic beverage producers, and machinery-equipment suppliers from around the world participated. The conference received significant attention from international industry and scientific research institutions. The main objectives of the conference were to strengthen the exchange and collaboration of global distilled spirits technology, explore new trends in distilled spirits R&D, and facilitate knowledge sharing among industry-university and research institutes.

Allow me to briefly mention the organizing institutions of the conference. The main institutions were the China Alcoholic Beverages Industry Association and the China National Food and Fermentation Industry Research Institute. Co-organizers included important institutions such as the Institute of Brewing & Distilling (IBD), Scotch Whiskey Research Institute (SWRI), University of Oxford (OU), University of Cambridge (CU), Imperial College London (ICL), Wageningen University & Research (WUR), Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), University of Nottingham (UN), The Ohio State University (OSU), American Society of Brewing Chemists (ASBC), Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC), Russian Vodka Research Center (KVA), and International Alliance for Responsible Drinking (IARD).

During the conference, I had the opportunity to present our scientific studies on raki, the raki taste wheel, and anise to the participants. It was an unparalleled experience to listen to scientific studies conducted by experts in the field of alcoholic beverages and engage in knowledge exchange with them. Technical tours were also part of the conference; I had the opportunity to visit many distilleries where Baijiu, the national spirit of China, and Chinese whiskey are produced and examine them on-site.

We cannot talk about Baijiu, the national spirit of China, without mentioning it. Baijiu maintains its status as the most produced and consumed distilled alcoholic beverage in the world. Its annual production volume is approximately 7 billion liters. Baijiu is a clear distilled alcoholic beverage produced from sorghum, rice, glutinous rice, corn, and wheat, with an alcohol content ranging from 35% to 60%. The most consumed varieties have an alcohol content ranging from 53% to 56%. It is traditionally consumed in small, cup-shaped glasses of 2-3 cl as a straight shot. Looking at its production method, the use of traditional solid-state fermentation and solid-state distillation techniques, along with aging the product in earthenware vessels, sets it apart. Baijiu differs significantly from Western distilled alcoholic beverages in terms of taste profile.

While there are significant differences between raki and Baijiu, we can also note some commonalities. Like raki, Baijiu is consumed alongside meals. I witnessed similar rituals to those of the raki table culture at Baijiu tables. Similarities include the tradition of the eldest person at the table making the first toast, pairings of meals with Baijiu, lengthy and conversational meals, and the accompaniment of music during dining. Just as the raki table culture embodies socializing, gathering, and unity, Baijiu tables serve the same purpose. At this point i would say; The literal translation of the word “gānbēi” used in the meaning of “cheers” is “dry cup”. In other words, it means "drinking the drink from the glass in one gulp." It has become a ritual to drink dry Baijiu, served in a small, thimble glass, in one go at each toast.

That's the gist of this very informative and enjoyable conference. Before I conclude, I have some exciting news to share. Our raki has received another invitation from a scientific conference. Our raki and raki culture continue to attract international attention. Our next stop in the journey to introduce raki and anise to the international world of science and alcoholic beverages will be Osaka, Japan.

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Koray Özcan

Mey|Diageo Senior Technical and Innovation Manager