Camus puts Chinese whisky in the spotlight

Cognac maker Camus is aiming to produce herbal and aromatic Chinese whiskies through its Guqi distillery project, created in partnership with one of the world’s biggest baijiu brands.

In November 2023, Cognac maker Camus revealed plans to build a US$30 million whisky distillery in Bozhou, China.

The plan to build a distillery had been in the making since early 2022. The distillery is being built in partnership with the fourth‐biggest baijiu brand in the world, Gujinggong.

Through its Spirit of China arm, Camus has been selling Gujinggong baijiu in travel retail since 2020. The company also looks after Kweichow Moutai and Shede Spirits in duty free.

“We saw an opportunity to build something with Gujinggong, that was different and that no one else was going to be able to do,” said Ryan Camus, business development director for new brands at Camus.

The Guqi distillery, located adjacent to Gujinggong’s distillery in Bozhou, will combine Cognac‐making techniques with fermentation methods used in baijiu production to create the “world’s most aromatic whiskies”.

A major part of the plan is to have a visitor centre, with different visitor experiences on offer.

The site will use local barrels made from Chinese oak, pot stills from Scotland, and follow the same regulations used to make Scotch whisky with a three-year ageing process. In China, to be labelled as whisky, the product must be a grain spirit aged in oak for two years, Camus explained.

Gujinggong brings “administrative and operational capacity” to the new project, says Camus, while the Cognac producer will also provide its brand-building and marketing expertise.

The site will produce two types of products, including the “most aromatic whiskies in the world” and “herbal whiskies” by infusing herbal essences into whisky using different methods. Camus said the reason behind creating herbal whiskies was due to its location in Bozhou, which is the capital of traditional Chinese medicine.

“When we started this project, we said we are absolutely not producing Scotch in China. It’s Chinese whisky made in China,” he added.“We want to show that Chinese whisky is different and just as great as other whisky.”

Whisky for dining

On how the distillery plans to create a uniquely Chinese whisky, Camus says it is about the ingredients, ageing environment and oak. But ultimately, it’s about flavour, he insists. “We want [our whisky] to taste Chinese and Chinese people would expect this whisky to pair well with the food that they eat. In China, the alcohol industry exists only on the dining table. It’s important for us to create whisky that fits within that.”

Despite the decline of standard-priced baijiu in the country, Camus believes locally made whisky will still be second to China’s national spirit. “If we were going to have two or three bottles tonight, the first one would be baijiu and the second might be whisky. People will still look for Scotch and Japanese; I don’t think Chinese whisky will be able to compete. The cost of procuring whisky in China is quite high.”

There are more than 30 distilleries currently in development or making whisky in China, Camus said.

A number of international drinks groups have revealed major whisky distillery projects in China in recent years. Pernod Ricard recently launched its first Chinese whisky after opening its US$150m Emeishan distillery to the public, while Diageo is also building a US$75m malt whisky distillery in the Yunnan Province.

At the end of 2023, Angus Dundee Distillers unveiled plans to build a malt whisky distillery in Chun’an, China, along with a visitor’s experience.

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Author: Nicola Carruthers