A Chinese family that has made liquor for 400 years

Beijing : In an ancient city in northern China, an 82-year-old man has finally retired from his family’s liquor-making factory and has handed over the reins of the 400-year-old alcohol brand to his grandson.

Spanning the last years of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the entire Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and the Republic of China period (1912-1949) and going all the way into the era of the People’s Republic of China (1949-till date), the millet liquor — or “Chang-sheng-yuan” — has been an honoured brand in Pingyao city in Shanxi province.

Retiring at the age of 82 last year, Guo Huairen handed over the family distillery to his 24-year-old grandson Guo Jingjin, Xinhua reports.

A 500 ml bottle of “sweet-flavoured” newly-made liquor costs 25 yuan (about $3.9), and a 10-year-old bottle – the oldest in the distillery – is priced at 150 yuan ($23), says Guo Jingjin, the eighth-generation owner.

The distillery was originally called “Ju-sheng-yuan”. It changed its name to the present one in 1900 after Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908) drank some of its liquor and replaced “ju” with the character “chang” which means “long-lived”.

In ancient times, imperial families would sometimes change names of a store if they liked and it was considered a great honour for the owner.

The distillery still has its old accounts books dating back to 1904, which have been passed on from generation to generation.

Like many old-school businesses, Chang-sheng-yuan has been managed in a simple distillery of 300 square metres in the backyard and a tavern of 50 square metres in the front.

A new distillery is now under construction.

“The idea of building a new distillery occurred to me because of the growing demand for our spirits in recent years,” said Guo.

The walled city of Pingyao, first built in 1370, was listed by Unesco as a World Heritage site in 1997 for being an “outstanding example” of a Chinese city of the Ming and Qing dynasties.

Since then, Pingyao has attracted a huge number of tourists. In 2010, Pingyao registered 1.15 million tourists, generating 1.15 billion yuan (around $180 million) in revenue, according to government data.

Guo is now thinking of opening an online store.

“I want people across the world to have easy access to our spirits,” he said.


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