Da'an (Chine): oldest brewery unearthed

Nation's oldest brewery unearthed in northeast China

Source - http://www.kaogu.cn/en/detail.asp?ProductID=3472

While former U.S. president Richard Nixon was advised to avoid drinking "baijiu," or Chinese liquor, during his visit in 1972, the emperors of a 1,000-year-old dynasty craved the drink, according to researchers in northeast China's Jilin province who are working to analyze the oldest alcohol-distilling devices ever found in the country.


Feng Enxue, an archaeologist from Jilin University, said Monday that researchers have been brought in to study two large iron boilers, as well as several other components, that were unearthed in the city of Da'an in 2006.

The devices date back to the Liao Dynasty (916-1125 AD) and include boilers, a porcelain urn and thousands of furnace stones, Feng said.

"We believe the devices are the relics of a baijiu distillery. Since we can date them back to Liao Dynasty, they represent the earliest baijiu distillery ever found," Feng said.

The items didn't attract much attention when they were originally uncovered.

"We dug these items out when we were renovating the Da'an liquor plant in 2006. At the time, nobody thought much of them. We actually tried to sell them as pig iron," said Kong Linghai, general manager of the factory.

"Lucky for us, the iron dealers refused to buy them, saying that the items were too rusty, so the items have been stored in our warehouse ever since," Kong said.

Kong later came to realize the value of the devices after visiting a liquor museum in southwest China's Sichuan province. He subsequently invited experts to check them out.

Before the discovery in Jilin, the oldest known baijiu distillery was found in southeast China's Jiangxi province, dating back about 800 years.

Emperors of the Liao Dynasty were known to travel to Da'an for vacation. They often held grand dinners and boozed for days, generating significant demand for alcohol, said Song Dehui, director of the Baicheng Museum.

"From a historical view, it is reasonable to say that baijiu distilleries could have blossomed in Da'an," Song said.

Qu Jiacheng, an expert from the China Alcoholic Beverage Industry Association, agreed with Song's theory, saying that the devices unearthed in Da'an match historical descriptions of baijiu distillery methods.

Although the strong odor and taste of baijiu are difficult to handle for some, the beverage occupies a special place in Chinese culture. Almost always consumed alongside food, the liquor is commonly imbibed during weddings, birthdays, holidays and other important occasions.

But despite its importance in Chinese culture, the beverage's origin remains debatable.

The majority of archaeologists and historians claim that baijiu-brewing techniques were brought to China from India and Europe by the Mongols during the 13th century. Before that, Chinese drank "huangjiu," a fermented liquor with a much lower potency than baijiu.

However, the discovery in Da'an places the liquor's origin at least 200 years earlier, possibly refuting the theory that baijiu brewing originated in another country, according to Feng.

Facilities to restore the ancient brewing devices are under construction.