Take the Chinese liquor plunge and drink that mystery elixir

There's no need to read the bottle. In fact, most of us cannot, despite loosely enforced Costa Rican laws to the contrary that call for labels in Spanish. It's just time for experimentation! Photo: A.M. Costa Rica/Arron O'Dell

China is a country known for the Great Wall, temples, big cities, big culture, a billion people and their seeming love to eat anything. If it grows out of the ground, walks, crawls, slithers, swims, flies or does any combination, the people of China have found a way to kill it, cook it, eat it and enjoy it. However, the liquor traditions of China seldom come up in conversation.

There are more Chinese than you can shake a stick at around the globe and not one beer that is popular around the world. This is the sort of thing not to be taken lightly. There must be a good reason for it. Most Chinese joints here don’t even sell an Asian beer and, if they do, it’s almost always Thai or Japanese. You will never here a Chinese expat say something like “Yeah, this Pilsen is okay but you should try this beer I use to drink back home.”

What the Chinese did bring with them was liquor, high octane, burn-on-the-way-down, glorious liquor. You haven’t seen the stuff at Hipermás, any of the big mercados or your local super, because it is not there. You cannot find it in any of the places you frequent for your standard shopping needs.

The only way to track down Chinese liquor is to search out the small shops around town with the Chinese characters on the front. These shops are here. You can find them. When you fall into one of these places you hit gold because of the strange and exotic smells. A good shop will have two or three shelves of bottles in a variety of shapes sizes with red and gold labels and writing that means nothing unless you read Mandarin.

My friend and I have found the best way to pick the best one is by style. The first bottle we took home was chosen this way and still remains a favorite. It was a short and fat bottle shaped like an oversize pineapple hand grenade with a colorful label. When my friend saw it, he said something like ‘I’ve got to have that bottle. It looks cool!’ He was that excited about this new elixir we had found.

With bottle in hand we quickly made our way to the closest place to home that sold beer and yanked several six packs off the shelf and darted home at a near run. With two open cans and empty shot glasses in front of us we stared admiring the bottle for a moment. Then with stupid giddy expressions on our faces we poured.

After the straight shot, we felt compelled to try it every way we could come up with until there was no more. We sipped it, drank it on ice, with soda, chased it, used it as a chaser for beer. This tasting was was done very scientifically.

It was very similar to Jägermeister without the bite on the front, and for 2,000 colons it was a superb deal. Somewhere around around the bottom of the bottle it occurred to us it might be nice to have a name to put to this wonderful concoction. We studied every character that The People’s Republic of China felt necessary to put on the ornate paper label on that fine, cheap bottle, and all of it was in some form of Chinese.

When we inquired of the proprietor of the local Chinese restaurant, he told us that it was an “export-only” liquor from mainland China. How fortunate for us that they chose to export this fine elixir!

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