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Moutai captures China's true spirit

By Richard Lim | China Daily | Updated: 2014-11-08 10:53

Moutai captures China's true spirit

Workers in the town of Moutai, Guizhou province, inspect consignments of the liquor in October. [Photo provided to China Daily]

China in a bottle-that's Moutai.

Leaders and delegates to the APEC meeting will get to savor the popular baijiu, a white liquor, at a welcoming banquet to be hosted by President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan on Sunday.

Moutai's story is very much intertwined with that of China. Recognition of its quality dates back as early as 135 BC, when Emperor Wu pronounced the liquor from Guizhou to be excellent.

Its history can be traced even earlier, to the Da Pu era when the aboriginal Pu tribe lived in the deep valley of the Chishui River, which flows from the mountains in Yunnan province.

The words "mou tai" derive from the couch grass terraces where the Pu people performed religious rituals that involved the white spirit.

During the late Ming (1368 to 1644) and early Qing (1644 to 1911) dynasties, Moutai baijiu was again much celebrated. In 1915, it also won a gold medal at the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, which helped restore much-needed national pride to a country in decline.

Legend has it that a Chinese representative at the expo intentionally let a clay jar of the liquor fall to the ground from a height, thus releasing its distinctive aroma. Intrigued by the fragrance that filled the air, judges at the expo went to investigate and found the alcohol to be the best of all the submissions.

In 1958, at a meeting in Chengdu, Sichuan province, Mao Zedong set an annual production target for Moutai of 10,000 metric tons. It would take 45 years for the distillery to meet that target, but from 2003 to 2011, production jumped from 10,000 tons to more than 30,000 tons and is expected to reach 40,000 tons in 2014.

When drunk regularly and in moderation, Moutai is said to protect the stomach and liver, organs that other alcohol commonly damages, according to independent scientific studies commissioned out by the plant in Moutai.

The honorary chairman of Kweichow Moutai Group, Ji Keliang, who spent a lifetime at the plant and transformed it from a simple workshop to a sophisticated production facility, is good testament to such health claims. At 76, he is still spry and trim and looks younger than his years. At a recent meeting with China Daily, he said that he still drinks the liquor each day.

Nestled in a deep valley among surrounding mountains, the town of Moutai acts as a natural cellar.

This geographical factor, together with its soil, the red sorghum it is made from and the water of the Chishui River, makes it impossible to replicate the liquor elsewhere in China or other parts of the world.

Just like modernizing China, Moutai is a blend of tradition and technological innovation.

There is no better liquor in the country to use to wish others "gan-bei", the Chinese equivalent of "cheers".

Moutai captures China's true spirit

Moutai captures China's true spirit

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