On Jan. 3, Zhouzhuang hosted a Wansan yellow rice wine tasting on the gaily painted boat, guests toured around the water town down the ancient canals while savoring the wine aged to perfection.
The wine sampled at the seminar were from Yuanfengshun, the largest folk yellow rice wine brewery in town, which was founded in 1821 during the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912). The brew workshop opened in 2001 is housed in an ancient stone and brick building where visitors can buy authentic yellow rice wine and learn about the wine culture at the same time.
Huang jiu, which translates into yellow wine, is a unique Chinese alcoholic beverage made with water and cereal grains.
“Good water makes better wines, and Zhouzhuang is a town surrounded by four lakes – Cheng Lake, Baixian Lake, Dianshan Lake and South Lake, which promises the best quality,” said Huang Guoxing, a wine maker in Zhouzhuang. “Yellow rice wine is rooted in our daily life, it is indispensable in every household.”
Huang, now in his 60s, has 40 years of wine making experience. To make the yellow rice wine, he sources good quality rice and wheat from local farmers and brews in the traditional method.
The ancient craftsmanship of making yellow rice wine by hand includes eight steps from steaming the rice, fermentation to pressing and boiling the wine.
The newly brewed yellow rice wine is strong and sweet, and most people prefer the aged brews with mellower and richer taste, said Huang.
The history of yellow rice wine in Zhouzhuang traces back to early Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) when Shen Wansan, the richest man across the region at the time, brought yellow rice wine every time he sailed away from home. He drank the wine to heal the nostalgia, gifted the wine to explore new opportunities and sold the wine to profit.
The wine is best enjoyed as a warm beverage to bring out a mild and aromatic flavor different from other liquors and help with the cold winter days.
Young people also prefer to drink chilled yellow rice wine, even make it into cocktails by mixing with lemon, candied plum and soda water.
“People in Zhouzhuang has a long history of drinking yellow rice wine, its distinct taste combined with medicinal values makes it the most popular beverage for hundreds of years,” Huang said.
The yellow rice wine also packs amino acids, vitamins and minerals. It’s often paired with rich and bold flavored dishes such as steamed hairy crab, a seasonal favorite as well as the famous Wansan braised pork knuckle that one can only find in Zhouzhuang.
In recent years, Zhouzhuang has hosted many events joined by master winemakers and yellow rice wine lovers to celebrate the history and heritage of winemaking in Zhouzhuang.
“Yellow rice wine is part of the Zhouzhuang lifestyle, the well preserved distilleries are passed down through generations where visitors can travel back in time to experience the ancient brewing process, savoring wine and history at the same time” said Mr. Zhang, general manager ofJiangsu Water-town Zhouzhuang Tourism Company.