Hong Kong CNN Business  — 

The world’s most valuable liquor company has just claimed another first.

Kweichow Moutai, the Chinese company known for making the popular national spirit, baijiu, is now the biggest public company in mainland China by market cap after its shares gained 23% so far this year, according to data from Refinitiv.

It’s currently valued at more than 1.8 trillion yuan ($259 billion), surpassing one of the country’s top banks, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (IDCBF), which is worth just under 1.8 trillion yuan ($253 billion).

For comparison, Chinese tech giants Tencent (TCEHY) and Alibaba (BABA) are worth about $605 billion and $614 billion respectively. The former is listed in Hong Kong, while the latter trades in New York and Hong Kong.

Kweichow Moutai has long been one of China’s hottest stocks.

In 2017, it became the world’s biggest liquor maker by market value, surpassing Diageo (DEO), the British firm that owns Johnnie Walker and other big brands. Diageo (DEO)’s current market value is about £65 billion ($81 billion). AB InBev (BUD), the world’s largest brewer, is worth about 78 billion euros ($88 billion).

Last year, Moutai also became the first Chinese company since 2005 to see its stock price hit 1,000 yuan (about $145). The stock is now trading at 1,460 yuan.

Chinese authorities have been wary of the company’s lofty valuation in the past. In 2017, state media called out the firm after its shares more than doubled in just 11 months, urging investors to take a “rational view” of the company and not engage in “short-sighted speculation.”

That stabilized the stock momentarily, though it continued to be a favorite pick among analysts.

Bottles of Moutai seen in a liquor store in Guizhou, China.

Hao Hong, head of research at BOCOM International, the securities arm of China’s Bank of Communications, said there wasn’t a single factor driving the stock’s recent performance.

But he said it was possible that investors have been more risk-averse during the coronavirus pandemic, leading them to buy into Moutai’s stock, despite the high price.

The company has a “very clear” formula for success, said Hong. For years, it has enjoyed robust earnings growth, a favored brand and a cash flow rarely seen among Chinese firms, helped by a steady rise in prices.

“I challenge you to find another company that is so predictable,” Hong added. “Great margins, very beloved brand… people still buying it like there’s no tomorrow.”