The Cocktail: Jade Pagoda
Chinese baijiu (pronounced “bye-joe”) is the best-selling liquor in the world, but it was nearly impossible to find in Seattle—until Veronika Groth opened the bar at Lionhead, Jerry Traunfeld’s new Sichuan eatery. She managed to track down some of the liquor, and became a devotee. Distilled in the same tradition for thousands of years from the grain sorghum, baijiu (Mandarin for “white liquor”) has many categories, flavors, styles and brands. Groth prefers the Red Star brand for Lionhead’s Jade Pagoda. Clear and high proof (56 percent alcohol by volume) like most baijius, Red Star has approachable pomelo and other tropical aromas and flavors. It’s mixed with lime-and-spice liqueur falernum, plus a few other fruity and fresh accents, for this tiki-ish number, which starts light and clean and ends with strong, rich baijiu undercurrents.
The Bar: Slotted right next to sibling Poppy, cozy Lionhead (Capitol Hill, 618 Broadway Ave. E; 206.922.3326; lionheadseattle.com) opened last August. Grab one of the 12 barstools at the richly colored wood bar to be near the cocktail action. Sample the ever-expanding baijiu selection (available in 1/2-ounce pours—it’s strong stuff), from the clear and slightly fruity Red Star to the brown-hued wu chia pi chiew (made with sorghum, barley and peas), which reveals a woodsy herbaceousness reminiscent of some Italian amari.
The Bartender: Long a favorite for her adventuresome and well-thought-out cocktail menus and her friendly attitude, Groth poured drinks at the now-shuttered Jade Pagoda (from which the drink gets its name) up the street from Lionhead and Poppy. Between then and now, she opened the bar at Poppy, and tended bar at Chino’s and Artusi, two other Capitol Hill spots. Now she manages both bars and is a true baijiu apostle. As she adds more varieties of the liquor, she plans to hold classes to spread the word.
1 ½ ounces Red Star baijiu
¾ ounce fresh lime juice
½ ounce fresh green apple juice
¼ ounce falernum
½ ounce house celery simple syrup (get the recipe)
Add everything to a cocktail shaker with ice cubes. Shake well. Add crushed ice to a tall Collins glass. Strain the mix through a fine strainer into the glass. Stir briefly. Garnish with a thin slice of green apple.
To find baijiu, try Asian markets, such as Uwajimaya (multiple locations, uwajimaya.com).