Chinese Alcohol
Bronze Drinking Vessel, Shang Dynasty
Bronze Drinking Vessel, Shang Dynasty
Many Chinese alcoholic drinks are quite distinctive from those of other countries and foreign visitors coming across them for the first time may a little wary of them. However, once they have tasted a sample or two, they may well acquire a taste for the various drinks available and find they really enjoy them!

An important component of Chinese cuisine and culture, the use of alcohol can be traced back to the dawn of the nation's history. Over the centuries many different kinds of alcoholic drinks have been developed and brewing methods as well as distillation has become more sophisticated. At the same time the way of consuming these desirable products has become a vital part of custom and culture.

Make a toast when friends have a dining together
Make a toast when friends 
have a dinner together
Alcoholic beverages have inspired many writers resulting in thousands of poems and other works relative to 'the magic elixir'. People drink it when they are joyous and for fun and although we are aware that an over indulgence can harm the constitution, nevertheless drinking in moderation is considered beneficial. No banquet would be complete without it, while a toast can seal a business enterprise, send troops into battle with a prayer for victory as well as endorse a wish for the health and happiness of family and friends. One of the classic examples of the ceremonial use of alcohol is described in the famous story "Romance of the Three Kingdoms". The three heroes in the epic tale, become blood brothers by drinking bowls of wine into which they have mixed drops of their own blood from cuts in their fingers! This act may seem extreme but was a symbol of faithfulness in those days.

Classification

 Liquor

Beer and Beverage
Beer and Beverage
Chinese liquor, which is one of the six world-famous varieties of spirits (the other five being brandy, whisky, rum, vodka, and gin), has a more complicated production method and can be made from various staples - broomcorn, corn, rice, and wheat. Opinions regarding the origin of this liquor are divided but in the main there are four possibilities varying from the Eastern Han Dynasty (25 - 220), Tang Dynasty (618 - 907), Song Dynasty (960 - 1297) to the Yuan Dynasty (1271 - 1368), but most people tend to agree that it actually dates from the Song Dynasty. Based on this long tradition, today's distillers create a spirit that is crystal clear, aromatic, and tasty. The most famous brand is Maotai and this holds the title of the 'National Liquor'. It is said that an empty bottle that was once filled with Maotai will emanate its fragrance after a few of days. There are other excellent brands also such as Wuliangye and Luzhou Tequ. These were both award winners at the Panama International Exposition. To facilitate its slow maturing process, the spirit is stored for 4 - 5 years, over which time the full fragrance and flavor develops, thus ensuring that it is a most enjoyable beverage to offer honored guests.

 Yellow Wine

As one of the world's ancient wines, it is unique and traditional in China. With a history going back some 5,000 years, it is renowned for its yellow color and luster. Made from rice and sticky rice, the alcohol content is usually 10 - 15 per cent. After the fermentation process, it has a balmy fragrance and is sweet tasting with no sharpness. It has a wide appeal and is often used for culinary purposes as well as a beverage. The most popular brands are made in Shaoxing, Zhejiang Province and in Shandong, while Hongqu yellow wine made in Fujian.

 Fruit Wine

It is mainly made from grapes, pears, oranges, litchis, sugarcane, hawthorn berries, and waxberries and all are quite palatable. Fruit wines possibly have the longest history and there is even a legend that apes brewed wines based on the natural fermentation of fruits; while the man-made wines appeared later. Wine was probably brought into China from the western region in the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220) and was popular in the Tang Dynasty. Now the fruit wine production is quite widely produced, with grape wine being the most prominent.

 Integrated Alcoholic Beverages

These drinks are created from wine and spirits to which has been added the zest or fragrances from fruits, herbs or flowers. More exotic or medicinal concoctions can contain other plant or even animal derivatives. These blends include wines and medicinal beverages with a very wide range of aromas, flavors and benefits in which the various levels of alcohol and sugar content help to produce styles that are so unique to China. The craft of medical practitioners from ancient times has been well documented and there are many books detailing the art and methods of producing these health products. Alternative medicine is a vital part of tonic day-to-day Chinese life and medicines such as tiger-bone liquor and wines made of wolfberry, safflower, ginseng-antler, etc. are still produced and contribute to the extensive repertoire of treatments available.

 Beer

Unlike spirits and many wines, beer has much lower alcohol content and is most commonly made from barley and hops. Although beer was not produced in China until the early 20th century, the historical records show that as far back as 3,200 years ago a light, sweet wine named 'li' was made using malted barley. It took time for beer to become widely accepted by the Chinese people but in modern China there is a thriving brewing industry and today there are many brands of quality beers which have become well-known and appreciated by beer drinkers both at home and abroad.