A town that wants people to drink to its success
Fu Yao, 26, a professional blender of spirits and rising star in Moutai, displays a delicate touch at his lab as he combines the various ingredients to produce the distinctive taste. Zhang Wei / China Daily
The makers of sauce-flavored liquor in Moutai town adhere strictly to traditional methods. These workers at Tianchangdi factory are loading sorghum into a cart, which will deliver it for the next step in the process. Photos by Zhang Wei / China Daily
The ingredients are mixed with bare feet, in much the same way as wine grapes were stomped for centuries. This Tianchangdi worker just called a break and is waiting for a wash.
Beverage with global reputation puts Moutai on the map, Qiu Bo reports from Guizhou province.
Yang Guangze, 35, drives 12 kilometers every day from his home in Renhuai to a nearby town where he sells the spirits made there in his family factory. The mellow fragrance of the town's famous liquor intensifies as he draws nearer.
"The locals usually tell people from outside that every driver here will fail the drunken driving test as the alcohol already hangs thick in the air," he said. "Of course, it's a joke."
Guizhou province, in the southwest, ranked last nationally in per capita gross domestic product in 2009. But the town where Yang works came first in output value per mu (0.067 hectare) at 35 million yuan ($5.6 million), its publicity department said.
Every day some 10,000 vehicles carrying cargo crowd the town's few narrow streets. The booming industry they support, a particular type of Chinese liquor, has a fragrance like soy sauce. Its most renowned brand has the same name as the town, Moutai.
In 1972, when Premier Zhou Enlai hosted a state banquet for US President Richard Nixon in Beijing, the American inquired about the mellow fragrance lingering in hall. The scent emanated from Moutai that Zhou had handpicked.
According to Chinese lore, Zhou had drunk 25 cups of such strong liquor, more than 1.25 kilograms, in one sitting during the Long March (1934-35). Nixon reportedly was impressed by Zhou's capacity.
The legendary beverage has a long history in Renhuai, where liquor pottery and cups made in the Shang Dynasty (16th-11th century BC) were unearthed. Nowadays, it plays a significant role in locals' lives. Whether at weddings or funerals, festivals or sacrificial ceremonies, the liquor is irreplaceable.
The local call most of what they drink Moutai generically, for where it is made. The well-known brand, however, is made by Kweichow Moutai Distillery Co, the parent of one of the world's largest listed distillers by market capitalization. It has a worldwide reputation and is listed as a top distillate spirit alongside Scotch whisky and French cognac.
The current liquor culture emerged in Moutai in the 1930s, when the town was a transport hub for salt trade along the Chishui River.
"The salt dealers from Shaanxi and neighboring Sichuan province traveling along the river found this wonderland, spread the liquor culture and even settled business here," said Ni Kelong, the town's publicity official.
Strictly speaking, he added, most of current local residents are immigrants.