Gaoliang liquor (高粱酒) and how to make it taste better

Gaoliang (高粱酒) is a local sorghum based liquor that is a must try in Taiwan. With a small bottle (2 shots) costing just 50NT the only reason not to at least try a taste is that you don't drink anything with booze in it. Don't be confused though, Gaoliang comes in a range of qualities and prices and the more expensive stuff comes with dated bottles and carry heftier price tags.

In Taiwan it is traditionally served into shot glasses where drinkers cheers each other and then drain it off in one go. The less time it spends in your mouth the better, at least for the majority of the world's drinkers. If you've got an iron pallet or you're used to drinking anything sorghum, you're going to LOVE this drink. The rest of you...well, just don't be surprised when you start coughing and grimacing.

A gaoliang cup next to a standard shot glass. They hold roughly the same volume.

If you've never had it before, Gaoliang packs a wicked punch both in terms of flavor and in alcohol content. The standard ABV is 58% but there are a range of offerings at 52% and a sub-forty 36%.

Sorghum doesn't leave a lot of room for mixing with your standards like cola or juice. You'll end up with a huge quantity of sorghum tasting mixer. Unlike vodka which can (nearly) disappear into a drink even in high quantity, a dash of gaoliang is sure to overpower any other flavor you can muster. 

So, here is the answer to your question: "how do I make gaoliang taste better?"

What you need:

Gaoliang (58%)
Shot glass
Chopsticks or other longish skewer
small glass/tumbler (optional)
marshmallows (full size)

What do to:

Method 1:

Pour out a shot of gaoliang that runs straight up to the rim of the glass.

Skewer one marshmallow and prepare for good times.
Light the gaoliang on fire and let it form a cone of blue flame.
Roast the marshmallow over the fire, rotating slowly until golden brown (or burnt if you like).

Repeat the marshmallow step as many times as you'd like.
Blow out the fire and take a shot of the gaoliang.

*alternatively, keep the marshmallow in your mouth while you shoot the gaoliang and then eat the toasty hot goo as a chaser.

Method 2:

Pour out a full measure of gaoliang right to the rim of a shot glass.
Skewer one marshmallow and cover it in gaoliang from the shot.
Light the now-soaked marshmallow on fire.
Use it as a torch to set the gaoliang on fire.
As the marshmallow begins to melt and bubble, blow it out before it drops off the skewer.
Blow out the gaoliang and eat the marshmallow.
Keep the wet marshmallow in your mouth and drink the gaoliang down.
Finish the marshmallow as a chaser.

Tips and Tricks:

Keep the lights low for a full effect from the fire.

The longer the fire burns the less alcohol you drink. Might be a good thing to let it burn a bit if you're going a few rounds.
The marshmallow/gaoliang order is up to you. Experiment.
The edge of the shot glass might be hot.
Don't spill a lot of gaoliang because it'll catch on fire too.
Alcohol burns off into water, but playing with fire is (obviously) dangerous. Clear a space for these drinks and have something on hand just in case you need to extinguish some flames.
Drink a lot of water around the gaoliang. Hangovers from this stuff suck.

This little drinking ritual isn't just to get some marshmallows into your mouth around the potent taste of gaoliang. The fire changes the mouth feel and flavor of the gaoliang, making it slightly sweeter and more viscous. It changes a still clear spirit into a much more exciting drinking experience.

On a trip to Tainan this drink was showed to some local men at a bar. It was a huge hit and while it might not change Taiwanese drinking culture forever, it definitely adds some flare to the experience. No matter how you slice it, gaoliang - and drinks made from gaoliang - is as Taiwanese as drinking can get.