A recent international news story concerned the demotion of a Chinese oil executive who charged $230,000 in unauthorized liquor purchases to Sinopec Group, a state-owned petroleum company.
Among the items on the exorbitant booze bill were 480 bottles of Moutai, a 106 proof sorghum based liquor with a storied past. Some of these bottles cost 12,000 yuan (roughly $1850 dollars) which is far higher than the average monthly salary in China.
This is not the first time this year that Moutai - the Chinese national spirit - has been in the news. In February, the New York Times reported dramatically increased prices leading to a surge of counterfeit Moutai.
This past December, a rare bottle of 1958 Kweichow Moutai fetched the equivalent of $194,000 at an auction in Hangzhou.
Moutai has become China's Louis Vuitton, the New York Times article quoted Liu Yan, general secretary of the National Association for Liquor and Spirits Circulation. Given the limited output and steep price, it's a good way for officials to curry favor and for the rich to show off their wealth.
If you are traveling in China and someone offers you a glass, you can be certain they wish to impress you. In order to remain in their good favor, though, you should limit your consumption. Which should not be terribly difficult to do - to describe the taste and smell of Moutai, comparisons have been made to ammonia, paint thinner, and rotten cabbage. Gan bei!