xi's moments
Home | Society

Job leaves taster in high spirits

By Song Wei | China Daily | Updated: 2017-05-12 07:29

Gao Ling swirls the contents of a glass of baijiu, a Chinese distilled alcoholic beverage made from grain, noting its transparent appearance and sweet bouquet before taking a sip.

"Observing the color, smelling the odor and tasting the flavor are the three key steps to assessing baijiu," said Gao, a senior Chinese spirits taster with the Anhui Yingjia Distillery in East China's Anhui province.

Her gentle voice suddenly perks up as she begins to talk about the liquor, while a big smile spreads across her face.

"Liquor making and tasting is the kind of job that requires a happy state of mind," she said. "Otherwise, it will taste different."

It's hard to tell whether Gao, who is in her 40s, was born to be a liquor taster due to her mild temperament, or the nature of the work has made her so easygoing.

"It's a job that demands patience," she said, adding that she once spent a whole week deliberating a formula.

Every other day, Gao goes to the distillery, removing the lids of containers that weigh 500 kilograms each to taste a small sample of between 70 and 80 different types of baijiu and grade them. The whole process takes at least three hours.

Gao swallows one-third of each sip of baijiu and spits out the rest.

"This way, I can assess the liquor without getting drunk."

But the job has its drawbacks. Gao has started to develop problems with her stomach. "My tongue often gets numb, and I feel nauseous," she said.

However, health issues have never stopped her.

"The most basic ability a spirits taster requires is to be able to spot two similar samples of liquor out of five," Gao said.

"Of course, a sharp sense of taste and smell are crucial, but diligence is more important," she said, adding that 80 percent of her success has been the result of hard work.

In 2005, she became one of 160 national-level liquor judges - the highest honor for spirits tasters in China. She managed to retain the title, which is awarded every five years, in 2010 and again in 2015.

Gao discovered her talent in this field relatively late in life. In 1989, age 19, she joined the distillery after graduating from high school, working in a few other departments, including packaging and distribution.

It was not until about 10 years later, when she achieved the top score on a training course, that Gao discovered her talent.

In 1996, she was promoted and moved to the distillery's research center before starting to train apprentices in 2000.

Xu Guangsheng, one of Gao's students who is now a liquor-making master at Yingjia, said it was Gao who spotted his gift. "Without her, I would probably still be in the workshop."

During the past 17 years, Gao has trained more than 50 apprentices, with a number of them going on to become baijiu-making and tasting masters at the distillery or elsewhere in the industry.

Gao believes training is an effective way to spot talent and learn professional skills. Each year, she holds training courses for more than 500 staff members over a month, and each month, she holds tasting workshops for more than 100 people.

It's not just through training that Gao builds close relationships with her students - she also tastes baijiu made by them. "It is only by tasting their baijiu that I can suggest how they can improve."

"Liquor making and tasting is subjective, so I try my best to share my honest opinion with them, and leave them to figure out the rest," Gao said.

The job comes with certain restrictions. For example, spirits tasters must not eat spicy food. One of the biggest drawbacks for Gao is that she cannot use makeup.

"No perfume, no lipstick and no skin care products with fragrance," she said.

But Gao said the positives far outweigh any restrictions. "When my liquor wins praise or positive feedback, I feel like the proudest woman in the world."



Gao Ling smells a sample of baijiu in her laboratory at the Anhui Yingjia Distillery in Lu'an, Anhui province.Song Wei / China Daily

(China Daily 05/12/2017 page7)

Global Edition
Copyright 1995 - . All rights reserved. The content (including but not limited to text, photo, multimedia information, etc) published in this site belongs to China Daily Information Co (CDIC). Without written authorization from CDIC, such content shall not be republished or used in any form. Note: Browsers with 1024*768 or higher resolution are suggested for this site.
License for publishing multimedia online 0108263

Registration Number: 130349