Back to Index

Chinese snake wine

Bill Ratliff's drink specialization is snake wine, so he must be excused for making a mistake which several WAISers have pointed out. Dwight Peterson says: "Tequila has never been bottled with worms in it. That distinction goes to Mescal. Snake wine sounds just ghastly and would make me a tea drinker in short order and I abhor tea." Well, Dwight, you will enjoy the latest message from Paul Simon:

He speaks of "the practice in "Snake alley" in Taipei of taking a live snake, usually a cobra, and draining blood and/or bile into a glass of bai jiu (white liquor) and tossing it down! I've also had to do that with turtle blood and bile. The things I do for my country.

The two best beers in China by all accounts are Qingdao (Tsingtao) from the eponymous city, and uehue (Snowflake, though usually translated as Snow Beer) from Shenyang. Snow is a joint venture with SAB and quite good. Qingdao was set up when Shandong was a German colony. The days of it following the Reinheitsgebot are long past but it still isn't bad. Almost every city in China has its own beer. Most are pretty bad. Regional protectionism keeps many money-losing breweries open. I remember when Dandong's Yalu River Brewery hired gangs of toughs to bludgeon drivers trying to deliver Snow Beer to town in 1999. Qingdao claims to be the oldest brewery in China but it is not so, Harbin Beer (Hapi) was founded by the Russians in 1898 and predates Qingdao by about 8 rs.

Most Chinese wine is indeed as awful as Bill asserts; because it is not real wine. If you look at how many hectares of wine grapes there are in China and how many bottles of "wine" are consumed, you will quickly find that there is, well, no way, that red stuff could be wine. Its just concord grape juice with alcohol added.

Snake booze is indeed a tradition here (and in Korea, where our slithery friends ferment in the local Soju). However, it is more for show. Locals prefer beer or bai jiu. This latter is ridiculously cheap, but even if it was free, I'd rather have a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. My wife insists it tastes and smells just like Erpinhydrate Cough Syrup from the 1950's.

I've become a virtual teetotaler here in China just so I can avoid baijiu and any further shots of turtle bile booze (which looks and tastes like rubbing alcohol mixed with Scope mouthwash!)


Ronald Hilton - 1/14/02