When the autumn winds begin to blow and the nights get cold, it can only mean one thing: It’s time to break out the huangjiu. Literally meaning “yellow wine,” huangjiu is an alcoholic drink that is traditionally served warm, sometimes with a sprinkling of osmanthus or a dried plum, making it the perfect companion for cold fall and winter nights.
But while it might be our peak sales season, huangjiu merchants, myself included, have little to celebrate these days. There was a time when huangjiu was China’s equivalent to French wine: Generals toasted it in victory and poets used it to warm their bellies and loosen their tongues. But that’s in the past. The embarrassing truth is, huangjiu — once the most popular and sought-after alcohol in China — is increasingly irrelevant to contemporary consumers.