IN honour of Chinese New Year on January 25 - 2020 is the year of the rat - there's no better time to become acquainted with baijiu.

An ancient white spirit that really does have all the bells and whistles, baijiu is the national spirit of China, and the bestselling liquor on the planet.

And while it's rare in the West, it was recently cited by the International Wine & Spirits Competition (IWSC) as a major spirit trends to watch.

So what is it?

Baijiu is a distilled white spirit made from grains. Different producers from all over China use different grains and employ a range of techniques during production, resulting in a range of styles of baijiu.

What are the different styles?

Most often a grain called sorghum is used. Twelve different baijiu categories, based on their aroma, are officially recognised, with the four key styles being Light Aroma, Sauce Aroma, Rice Aroma and Strong Aroma.

The oldest producer has been around for 6,000 years

One producer known for its premium quality Light Aroma Baijiu range is Fenjiu. They are the oldest Chinese baijiu producer, with more than 6,000 years of history. Based in Fenyang city, in the Shanxi province of Northern China, Fenjiu uses organic sorghum and pure spring water to make their baijiu.

How is it made?

First, the organic sorghum is ground, then cooked in water, stirred and cooled. Then the cooked sorghum is mixed with a Chinese starter culture called DAQU, which is made from barley, peas and water. Next, the mixture is transferred to clay pots for fermentation for at least one month.

After fermentation, the mixture is distilled in a stainless-steel still by heating, creating a steam which cools to form the alcoholic liquid. This is then graded and blended, and matured for between one and 50 years in ceramic jars. The jars are stored underground for a stable environment, where the liquid then breathes, interacting with oxygen and developing its flavour with time.

What does it taste like?

Fenjiu baijius all have their own characteristics, with a common theme of the range being a spectrum of intense fruit, floral, honey, fresh herbal and umami aromas and flavours, with an attractive smoky or spicy top note and a long, lingering finish. Traditionally drunk neat, the spirit is a brilliant building block for cocktails.

This recipe won the inaugural Fenjiu Baijiu Cocktail Competition in the UK...

How to make the 'The Golden Empire' made by Andrea Dionori, head of mixology at Crazy Bear...

Ingredients: 35ml Fenjiu 10 Years Old Baijiu (jasmine, fruit, coconut, softly sweet, spicy with herbal notes and honey), 10ml Cocchi Americano white vermouth (slightly creamy, not too sweet), 7.5ml Palo Cortado sherry (dry and very nutty style), and 10ml homemade palo santo cordial (a cordial Dionori makes by burning this smoky wood and infusing it in hot water with a little sugar).

Method: Stir together (it's not shaken), pour, drink and celebrate World Baijiu Day.

The Fenjiu Baijiu range is available at Harrods, priced from £60 (50cl) to £160 (50cl).