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Hst-Rice-Wine-art - 9/2/18


"A brief history of 'HONG QU JIU' (Red Rice Wine)" by T.H.L. Eidiard an Gobihainn.


NOTE: See also the files: fruit-wines-msg, Hist-o-Coffee-art, Hist-of-Mead-art, Kumiss-How-To-art, Med-Chocolate-art, wine-msg, rice-msg, infusions-msg.





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Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org



A brief history of  "HONG QU JIU" (Red Rice Wine)

by T.H.L. Eidiard an Gobihainn



In China, rice wine could also be called the "Water of History" because stories about wine can be found in almost every period of China's long story.


Li Bai

Li Bai (701-762A.D.)


By Myself Pouring Wine as the Moon Shines


From the filled jug of wine left within the blossoming bed,

I pour with no love nor family by. Loneliness sets in.

Drawn to its beam, I raise a brimming cup and face the moon

an encounter that spawns a shadow. We've become a trio.

The aloof moon, as of late, has been declining to imbibe

and the faithful shaver, my shadow, follows my every move.

For tonight, anyway, we three will be boon companions.

Turned on, we'll be stepping out. Spring leaves us too soon.

I try to sing, and the moon starts its little swaying move,

which gets me dancing till my poor shadow's all confused.

With so much in common, we rouse to the time of our lives

until, in a drunken fog, we let go, dispensed into a cured world.

Ever cast to find passion in an age of fruitless wandering, our feelings are mutual. I'll see you in that cosmic cloudy dynasty.


            The origins of the alcoholic beverage from fermented grain in China cannot be traced definitively. It is believed to have 4,000 years history. A legend said that Lady Yidi, the wife of the first dynasty's king Yu (about 2100 BC) invented the method. At that time millet was the main grain, the so-called "yellow wine", and then rice became more popular. (1) Red rice wine is called "HONG QU JIU" in Chinese (2)


            The producing areas have been scattered mainly over Jiangsu Province, Jiangxi Province, Anhui Province, Fujian Province and Zhejiang Province.




            "The brewing of alcoholic drinks was originated in the primitive times possibly by Di Yi or maybe by Du Kong. But in fact some food left in a bowl was then placed aside without any care for a long time, it then fermented itself and our ancestors found it fragrant. They imitated the material method, and then invented the brewing of alcoholic drinks. That as how brewing of alcoholic drinks was invented. "(3)


            Chinese fermented beverages, called huangjiu (lit. "Yellow liquor"), are brewed directly from grains such as rice or wheat. Such liquors contain less than 20% alcohol, due to the inhibition of ethanol fermentation at this concentration.(4) These wines can traditionally be pasteurized, aged, and filtered before their final bottling. They can range in color from clear to yellow, green and even reddish brown. In "Xin Xiu Ben Cao¡" by Sujing in the Tang Dynasty, it was said that "the rice wine should be made with Qu, while wine-making needed no Qu." (5 & 5a) A poet in Yuan Dynasty ever wrote a poem to describe the whole process for wine- making by natural fermentation at that time. (6)


            The Tang dynasty was a golden age of rice winemaking history, because winemaking skills were known by almost all the ordinary people at this time. Many poems were written by famous poets to praise wines. When girls got married, wines were often part of presents to their husbands. The Hu people opened wine shops in capital city Changan to sell wines from Western Regions to capitalize on their "exotic brews". (7) This shows how widespread the development of rice wine production and trade were.


Brewing Conventions:


Liquor starter


            Also known as a "starter cake" or "liquor medicine", the liquor starters for Chinese wine are cakes or pastes containing a complex mixture of various yeasts, molds, and bacteria, which are used to inoculate the grains. The starter converts the grain starches to sugars, and sugars to ethanol. Certain starters also acidify the grain mixture. Each commercial brewery uses a different type of starter cake that was made at their facilities from previous starter cultures, which are handed down from generation to generation. Larger factories often use pure cultures of each organism in a starter instead of the actual cakes themselves. There are also homemade varieties, such as the crossbreed I have been working with.


There are three main types of starters:


Small starter:

            Rice that had been cultured predominantly by molds of the Rhizopus and Mucor genus, as well as yeast and other bacteria. The mixture generates less heat, so they are mostly used in the tropical South of China.


Large starter:

            Rice that had been cultured predominantly by Aspergillus oryzae, other molds, yeast, and bacteria. Almost all famous alcoholic drinks in China belong to this type. Wine made from a small starter is usually finished using large starters for flavor.


Red starter:

            Rice that had been cultured with yeast and Monascus purpureus or other red rice molds of the Monascus genus. This starter gives the wine a purple red color and is used to give wines a unique color and flavors.


            The starter is either mixed in water using only the filtrate of the mixture, or the starter is dried, ground, and applied directly in the form of a dry powder. Although the manufacturing process requires only one type of starter for fermentation, many Chinese wines are brewed their liquors from two of more types of starters.


Preparing the seed mash


            Prior to the actual brewing of the liquor, a small batch of grain is prepared to produce the seed mash. Seed mash is produced by soaking and acidifying the glutinous rice and steaming them for several minutes. This cooks the grains and converts the starch to a gelatinized form that is more easily utilized by the starter culture.


            Inoculation with the first starter partially liquefies the steamed grains, which is the signal to add the large starter as well as more water to form a thick slurry. This slurry is carefully stirred by a brew master to aerate and maintain an optimal level of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the mixture, as well as to maintain an even temperature throughout the fermenting mass. The slurry is periodically stirred over the course of a week. The stirred slurry is then allowed to go through a more thorough fermentation for approximately one month, following which the pH of the mixture will have dropped to around 3.4, and the concentration of alcohol will have reached approximately 15%. This is the seed mash that will be used to brew the main mash.


Brewing the main mash


            More soaked and acidified rice is prepared in the same fashion as in the seed mash; however, depending on the type of yellow liquor being produced, the rice is then either doused with cold water or spread out on a flat surface to cool down. Large factories usually employ air blowers to accomplish this. The cooling method alters the flavor and mouth feel of the rice wine.


            My batch was allowed to rest in a lee-free vat for no less than 3 years before it received its final filter and bottling. Long resting periods are not unheard of as demonstrated by the finds of ancient wines in vats, un-bottled for centuries. The average modern age is about 5 years maximum due to additives.


            There is a wide variety of methods used to produce Chinese rice wine. Chinese wines can be made using a process where saccharification(8) and fermentation of the rice occur in separate phases, similar to the way Japanese sake is produced, or a concurrent process where saccharification and fermentation happens in the same mash. The latter method is the typical process for brewing Chinese wines. In either case, the alcoholic liquid produced is then is allowed to continue to mature in earthenware jars for several months to several decades. The matured alcoholic liquid is then bottled and sold as "yellow liquor."


            The lees of this mash are also used in rice dumplings and as a pickle for chicken and pork prior to cooking.(9)



            In traditional Chinese huangjiu production, the main mash is made by mixing the seed mash, additional large starter, and fresh water into newly cooked steamed glutinous rice that has been cooled into large glazed earthenware pots (up to 2 meters in diameter and height). The mixtured is mounded on the sides of the pots and allowed to ferment. The seed mash and the starter will saccharify, ferment, and liquify the cooked rice in the main mash.



            If the process where separate saccharification and fermentation occurs is desired, the seed mash is typically not used as a main mash is never actually produced. A mash of water, steamed glutinous rice, and other grains is inoculated with rice that has already been cultivated with the mold Aspergillus oryzae or molds of the Rhizopus genus and certain strains of Lactobacillus. When mixed into the mash the molds cultivate the mixture and convert the starch in the grains into sugars and lactic acid, respectively. This sweet and slightly sour liquid is drained and reserved, while additional water (and sometimes also malt) is added to the mixture.


            The process is repeated until the grains are exhausted. Yeast is then added to this liquid in order to convert the sugars in the liquid to alcohol.


            I used a modified version of the concurrent method in the creation of my rice wine. I made the modifications based upon available equipment (I did not have the large jars to work with). I used instead brew buckets as they were not only closer to the jars but much easier to clean. The water lock did a good job of approximating the actions of the jar lid.


            I began with about 4 gallons of filtered water and brought it to a boil. Once it cooled again to room temperature I set aside 1 cup of the water and mixed the rest with about 6 pounds of cooked red rice in the main fermenter vat. I pitched the yeast in the cup of water set aside until I got a positive confirmation of it being live yeast. The smell of "rising bread" is a simple indicator if it is a viable yeast pitch. This was then mixed with the primary fermenters rice load and allowed to begin the fermentation process.


            I allowed the batch to run a full fermentation cycle with the red rice until no further fermentation would take place, about 30 days. It was then transferred to the ageing carboy to sit sealed for the next 3 years. It was then removed from the carboy and filtered using standard brewing filter paper in place of the hard to get rice straw filters used in Ancient China. (10)


            The majority of it has already been bottled and consumed with surprising acclaim not only for its taste but its clarity.


            This batch is gold to reddish in color. I did find that while it is tart it has a slight aftertaste of iron, but I have no idea where that came from in the process. It may be a result of oxidization of the batch. It is not objectionable just unexpected. I have found that this may diminish with age (11)  I and others have tried it both warm and cold finding that warm is slightly more preferable of the two but even at room temperature it has a complex flavor that takes time to fully manifest on the pallet.




(1) http://shanghaifinance.com/food/chinesewine.php

(2) http://www.sytu.edu.cn/zhgjiu/u1-1-2.htm

(3 and 10) "Jiu Gao" (a book giving orders and recommendations ) 1042 – 1021 BC Shanghai Jiao Tong University

(4) Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology Volume 11, Number 3 / September, 1981 pgs151-155

(5) Wine Production in China http://www.jiangnan.edu.cn/zhgjiu/u5-2.htm

(5a) Isolation and Identification of Representative

Fungi from Shaoxing Rice Wine Wheat Qu


(6) Wine Production in China http://www.jiangnan.edu.cn/zhgjiu/u5-2.htm

(7) Wine Culture http://www.changyu.com.cn/english/culture/history004.htm

(8) sac·char·i·fi·ca·tion \sə-ˌka-rə-fə-ˈkā-shən\  the process of breaking a complex carbohydrate (as starch or cellulose) into its monosaccharide components (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

(9) This has been related to me by a native of China as a traditional use by her family of the lees. It has been stated that this was a common practice. I have tasted dumplings made with the lees and can attest to their luscious flavor.

(10) "Jiu Gao" (a book giving orders and recommendations ) 1042 – 1021 BC Shanghai Jiao Tong University

(11) Classification of Chinese Yellow Wines by Chemometric  Analysis of Cyclic Voltammogram of Copper Electrodes -Jian Wu, Jun Liu*, Min Fu, Guang Li and Zhengguo Lou

Department of Biomedical Engineering, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou  P.R.C. China



Copyright 2018 by Bryian Winner. <eidiard at gmail.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited.  Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, please place a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
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Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org