SCOTCH whisky giant Diageo has embarked on a new joint venture to drive sales in the lucrative Chinese spirits market.

The Johnnie Walker distiller has linked up with Jiangsu Yanghe Distillery Co, China’s third-largest distiller of the country’s dominant Baijiu white spirit, to launch a “new to world whisky”. Zhong Shi Ji, described as a taste of east and west, has been made by maturing Scotch whisky in ceramic Chinese pots, a process said to soften the spirit to make it combine well with food.

Diageo cited research suggesting 80 per cent of alcohol is consumed in China with meals, and sees the initiative as a further way to appeal to consumers interested in exploring non-Baijiu spirits. China is the world’s largest alcohol market by value, recording $178 billion of retail sales in 2017. Baijiu, also known as Chinese spirit, is the largest category, with international spirits making up three per cent of the market. Scotch is the second-largest international category.

Zhong Shi Ji was created as a collaboration between Diageo master blender Craig Wallace and Zhou Xinhu, a Chinese Baijiu master. CH Chu, managing director of Diageo Greater China, said: “Diageo has long regarded China as one of the world’s most important emerging markets for whisky. With accelerated urbanisation and a fast-growing middle class, Chinese consumers are demanding both choice and quality. We believe that Zhong Shi Ji can play an important role in the Chinese dining occasion, launching a new era for whisky drinkers in China. Through our new partnership with Yanghe, we are well placed to leverage our strengths in craftsmanship, brand building and distribution.”

In January, Diageo reported 20% rise in organic net sales in Greater China for the six months ended December 31.