In the bamboo forests of Ningbo, distillers produce a notoriously delicious firewater
Harvest season in the bamboo forests of eastern Zhejiang province doesn’t just mean fresh shoots on the dinner table, but perhaps surprisingly, some of the best rice wine in the country. Brewed and then injected into cavities of a live bamboo plant to mature for about three months, it’s a delicious amber liquid with a thick bamboo aroma.
A century-old local grain store in the city of Ningbo, Wangshengda (王升大), has perfected the preparation method. First, a spirit is made usually the traditional way: Fermented glutinous rice is steamed in a wooden bucket with a metal pot on top. A funnel is placed in between. Cold water is continually poured into the pot so that the steam condenses at the bottom, falls through the funnel, and is collected in another container. The resulting shaojiu (“burnt spirit”) is a strong liquor, around 52 percent alcohol by volume. Here at Wangshengda, the whole distillery process still happens in the village kitchen under the eye of experienced brewers, instead of a factory.
With tanks full of liquor, staff at Wangshengda hike to an altitude of 600 meters into a bamboo wood, planted precisely for making perfect storage containers. A strong, healthy bamboo is ideal, and can hold three “joints” of liquor. Any more will affect the bamboo’s growth, “drinking” it to death. The liquor is stored for about 100 days, as the plant absorbs the liquor and alcohol, causing the ABV to drop to about 30 percent.
Bambooze is a story from our issue, “Cloud Country.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.