“It’s a Baijiu bar,” was the recommendation. “Have you had Baijiu before?”
I arrive first and wait patiently, taking in the room. It smells like sage. The question comes from the bartender, “Have you had Baijiu before?” No. I ask for more information, a guidance on what to expect from the sorghum distillate.
“All of our cocktails are meant to be an approachable way to drink the spirit. It is called fire water.” Realistically any liquor straight could be considered fire water to most throats, I think, so the term leaves me unfazed and still curious. “Why don’t you find something on the list you’d like to try for your cocktail and I’ll have you taste the spirit straight after you taste the cocktail.”
Though I want to try the Sesame Colada, it sounds too sweet fore me. Instead, I sip water until Lizzie and Kat arrive and only then do I order the Goji (HKB Baijiu, Buenbicho mezcal, pink grapefruit, foro amaro, aleppo pepper, lime, agave) because mezcal, pepper, and amaro sound delightful together. Lizzie orders the Red Monkey (HKB Baijiu, amaro montenegro, peach blossom bitters, pomelo juice, agave, lime) and Kat the Cilantro Martini (cilantro infused Baijiu, Lillet blanc, english cucumber, black peppercorn, lime, agave).
Baijiu is the curve ball. It has an herbal, grassy flavor that changes the profile of each drink. The finish is dry, almost chalky like a milk alternative. The Red Monkey should be predictably bitter with the ingredients listed, yet it tastes like candy. The Cilantro Martini is cool, herbaceous, and refreshing. The bartender asks us each to describe what we think of the taste. “It has a fun mouthfeel to it. It has a nice dry quality,” Kat says. More answers elaborate the taste as herbaceous, grassy, chalky. We nod, in an unintentional palate workshop, as he relays that the yeast used is similar to sake, which is part of the reason for its unique flavor profile.
After we try each cocktail, we are poured a shot of the liquor and take it down to understand the flavors of Baijiu on its own. Traditionally a shot is taken as a welcome for new guests, which we are to the bar. The fire in our throats indeed makes us warm to the space. More of the history lesson continues as the bartender elaborates on the process that makes Baijiu, guiding us through the various grains used in addition to sorghum, on to fermentation tactics and aging.
As one of the first Western bars to dedicate their concept to the craft of this Chinese alcohol, Lumos is approachable and experiential. Another shot is poured as we depart. The hospitality is certainly a part of this uniquely processed spirit.