Liu Hongjun has spent the past year perfecting his family's recipe for rice wine, and says there is nothing else like it on the market. Fan Zhen reports.
Liu Hongjun loves sharing. He takes part in marathons to share his passion for running with thousands of others. He raises money to buy computers for poor children to spread his love of knowledge. Recently the software engineer decided to share another thing, the traditional handmade rice wine of his family. It had never occurred to Liu to make rice wine until one year ago when his wife gave birth. His mother came to Beijing and made rice wine to help her daughter-in-law produce breast milk. He used the extra wine to treat his friends at dinners and it became so popular that a lot of them came back for more.
"Why not learn to make it myself since my friends enjoy it?" he asked himself.
Rice wine is a popular drink in Liu's village in East China's Jiangxi province. Every year as winter approached, his mother would start to make pottery jars of rice wine and the house was constantly filled with its aroma. At dinners, their relatives and friends would drink together.
For Liu, the rice wine, which is warm and sweet, brings back memories of childhood friends and family.
Now working in the capital far from his hometown, he misses it more than ever.
"I've tried different kinds of rice wine from the supermarkets-even the very expensive ones-but I can't find the same taste," Liu says. "Most of them taste either too plain or just like syrup and don't have the special aroma of rice."
He didn't know why until he started to learn how to make the wine himself from his mother.
Making rice wine calls for great care in terms of ingredients, timing and temperature. There must not be a single mistake.
His mother told him the importance of choosing the right kind of glutinous rice and water. These two ingredients directly affect the quality of the final product.
"The rice has to be round and plump. After you steam it for one hour, it should be quite sticky," Liu says. "If not, it will produce less wine."
Liu has tested several kinds of glutinous rice from the market but even the expensive brands failed to satisfy. "It's not sticky enough."
At home, his mother usually uses the local glutinous rice grown on the terraces right behind their house. The local farmers water the crops with natural springwater and often use natural fertilizers because of financial limitations.
Liu admits he would not have known these "disadvantages" are actually advantages if he hadn't compared the local rice with what is available in the market.
As for water, he has to substitute the springwater that his mother uses with purified water, which fails to achieve the same smooth taste. This has made Liu curious as to why some rice wine tastes so different from his.
"I don't know what type of rice and water they use, but the final products just don't taste like real rice wine," Liu says. "I think the really good ones should look clear and taste mellow and pure."
But his mother's 40 years of experience making rice wine could not be learned overnight. Once he didn't wash the rice properly and two days later the whole jar became moldy and he had to throw it away.
Another time he put the rice onto the steamer and went to chat with friends and forgot the time. The rice became too dry to be used.
Liu can talk about his trials and failures for hours but one thing he has learned is that it takes more than concentration and accuracy to make good rice wine.
Another important thing is attitude. "You have to care about the people whom you make this for. I think that's why my mom's rice wine tastes so good, because she really puts in the extra effort to make it for her family."
Liu also started to look into the benefits of rice wine. He knew it had health benefits for women because the young mothers in the village would drink it as a tonic.
He later learned that the drink can accelerate blood circulation and metabolism and it contains a lot of sugar, organic acids, oxy acids and vitamins.
With all this nutritional value, Liu wonders why rice wine hasn't made it into the high-end market.
"It's a traditional art. If we don't promote it, we might lose it," Liu says. The rice wine recipe in his family was passed down the generations from his great-grandmother. But his hometown is a small village and people make the wine only for themselves. They have never thought of introducing it to the outside world, although some of them can make much better rice wine than what is on the market.
"I just don't want to lose the taste of my mom's rice wine and I hope more people can enjoy it the way I do."
Liu has named his products "A Lian's rice wine" after his mother. He is aiming to make 6,000 bottles this year, and he bought customized packaging and distributed free samples to customers for advice. He is thinking about renting a workshop and transporting the rice from his hometown to Beijing.
"It's like running a marathon. You know there is a long way ahead. But once you get started, you enjoy it so much that you want to keep going all the way until the end."
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Software engineer Liu Hongjun gives out free samples of his homemade rice wine at the Beijing Country Fair. He has learned from his mother to make the traditional rice wine of his native village in Jiangxi province. Provided to China Daily
(China Daily 01/17/2014 page22)