Shenjiu Distillery is located in Luzhou, Sichuan Province.
In the Beginning
The Shen Family of Luzhou has been making baijiu for more than 600 years.
In that regard, they are like the Antinori Family of Tuscany who have been growing grapes and making wine since 1385. Both Chinese and Italian families are considerably older than Cognac Hennessy which was founded only in 1765.
During the reign of the Qing Emperor Kangxi (1654 – 1722), SHEN Shi Hui established “沈酒坊” or Shen Distillery.
The water he used to produce the baijiu came from a famous well. It was called “龙泉井” which can be translated as “Source of the Dragon”.
In his lifetime, Shen Shi Hui passed the family tradition to his son, Guo Long (born in 1683), who represented the 13th generation.
Shenjiu is located in a village where the air is unpolluted and the water from wells and springs of pristine quality.
This new member of the Shen family spread the fame of the baijiu throughout Sichuan including to Chengdu, Yibin, Naxi, Xuyong and Gulin. Apart from being a passionate ambassador of the family baijiu brand, Shen Guo Long was also a master distiller who knew every process of the production intimately. He was, however, not content with merely following the old ways.
Shen Guo Long was always thinking of how to improve production techniques and the quality of baijiu.
Five years into the reign of the Yongzheng Emperor (1678 – 1735), in the year 1727, Guo Long created a new family recipe for baijiu with five different grains: sorghum, rice, glutinous rice, wheat and maize.
Another pioneering innovation of Shen Guo Long was to cellar his baijiuin caves. The unique conditions of the caves greatly improve the quality of the spirit.
SHEN Guo Long (born in 1683), of the 13th generation, was the first to store the family baijiu in caves, greatly improving the taste and quality.
Today, Shenjiu produces five different types of baijiu: “Chen”, “Strong”, “Sauce” ,“Light” and “Mix” aroma. They have five distilleries and a natural cave which stretches five kilometres, providing the perfect environment to age and mature baijiu. “Mix” aroma comprises only two aromas. As for “Chen”, that is a unique Shenjiu creation. Although the Shen Family knew they had produced something complex and unique, it was their Master Distiller LAI Gau Huai and the late baijiu authority SHEN Yi Fang who identified the three different aromas in the single baijiu. These are Sauce, Strong and Light. “Chen Xiang” is a registered production process of Shenjiu and was launched to the world on 22 March 2017 in Chengdu.
The launch of Shenjiu Chen Xiang was a major event in the Chinese baijiu world, and attracted experts and media from throughout China.
The 20th Generation
From one generation to the next, the Shen tradition was that a member of the family would assume the position of master distiller. This continued until when the 20th generation took over.
For the very first time, when Shen Shang Chi (born in 1887) became in charge of the family distillery, he appointed someone outside the family by the name of YU to take on the responsibility of making the baijiu. In this way, Shen Shang Chi was able to concentrate and devote himself entirely to promoting and spreading the fame of the family baijiu.
Shen Distillery was bombed and destroyed In 1939 during the Sino Japanese War (1937 – 45). Sadly too, Shen Shang Chi passed away in 1941. This resulted – together with the war – in Shen Distillery stopping production.
When China entered a new era in 1949, the government of the day promoted Luzhou as a leading producer of baijiu. The south-eastern city in Sichuan is also a strategically placed port as it borders Yunnan, Guizhou, and Chongqing. The Chinese government also encouraged entrepreneurship and private ownership.
In the 1980s, the 21st generation of the family under Shen Rongbing established Luzhou Lao Guan Distillery (泸洲老罐酒厂). The baijiu producer won many awards, taking the industry by storm. As a result, Luzhou Lao Guan Distillery became a household name in Luzhou.
More was to come.
Son and father continue the 600-year old tradition. From left, SHEN Honglin and SHEN Rongbing.
Shen Honglin – The Modern Era
In 2015, the 22nd generation under Shen Honglin renamed Luzhou Lao Guan Distillery to Shenjiu Distillery, putting the family surname at the forefront of everything that they do.
Shen Honglin is very mindful of his social responsibility. The exemplary businessman has created many jobs for the community. He built an entire township called “Shenjiu Village” around the distillery, providing employment and free housing to 36 families. Male members usually work in the distillery while their female counterparts grow and cultivate the grains needed for baijiu production.
Shen Honglin has also constructed roads leading up to the village and also conserved places of worship in the area. He has also built schools so that families who work and live in Shen Family Village do not have to worry about their children’s education. The families are also encouraged to be enterprising and to set up shops within the township in order to sell necessities and other goods to the other families. Each week, a complimentary bus also takes all of them to and from a nearby city.
Shenjiu Village provides free housing and paying jobs for families who move there. Male members usually work in the distillery while their female counterparts grow and cultivate the grains needed for baijiu production.
Shen Honglin has donated – to date – more than RMB 5 million into creating Shenjiu Village. In the process, he has helped preserve a way of life and also improve baijiu, China’s greatest spirit.
THE TWIN PILLARS OF SHENJIU WHO IDENTIFIED THE THREE AROMAS OF CHEN XIANG
Shenjiu Master Distiller LAI Gau Huai was born in Luzhou in 1934. The Lai Family had one of the largest distilleries in Luzhou at the time. It was called Tong Fa Sheng Distillery (同发生槽坊). It was later acquired by Shenjiu and renamed Shen Zi Guo Distillery (沈子国酒庄) by Shen Honglin. In 1955, a 21-year young Lai Gau Huai joined Luzhou Laojiao Distillery. While there, he introduced important innovations in baijiu production and helped the business prosper. Lai’s contributions to Chinese baijiu went beyond his position at Luzhou Laojiao Distillery. Since 1966, he has given numerous lectures on baijiu and has influenced around 10,000 professionals involved in baijiu production throughout China. In 2006, Luzhou Laojiao’s baijiu production expertise was recognised as a component of “The National List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of China”. The following year, the Chinese Government named Lai Gau Huai as a “Guardian” of the heritage. The Lai and Shen families have known each other for several generations.
It took two authorities of baijiu, LAI Gau Huai (left) and SHEN Yi Fang, to identify the complex and intricate aromas of Shenjiu Chen Xiang.
Baijiu authority SHEN Yi Fang (no relation to the Shen Family of Shenjiu Distillery) graduated from the School of Chemical Engineering of Shanghai East China University (the present day East China University of Science and Technology) in 1953. Following that, he was assigned by the central government to work in the Inner Mongolia Light Industry Research Institute (内蒙古轻工科学研究所). The following year in 1955, Shen Yi Fang established and headed a Food Research Office, leading the team to conduct extensive research on baijiu. Throughout the ’50s and ’60s, he helped improve the production jiuqu and baijiu in distilleries all over Inner Mongolia. In 1977, Shen published a paper entitled Improve Quantity and Quality of Liquid Fermented Baijiu in the China Microbiology journal which won a National Science and Technology Progress Award. His fame was spreading throughout the country and in 1979, Shen Yi Fang was part of the judging panel of the 3rd China National Baijiu Competition (全国第3届白酒国家评酒會). A decade later, Shen was made Director of the 5th China National Baijiu Competition. Shen also lectured on baijiu production at Fudan University and Jiangnan University. The distinguished authority of Chinese spirit advocated the true appreciation of baijiu and its healthy enjoyment by renouncing the practice of bottoms-up or ganbei.
Shenjiu Distillery won a Double Gold Medal and two Gold Medals at the recent inaugural Singapore World Spirits Competition 2019, the newest addition to The Tasting Alliance, parent organization of world-renowned San Francisco World Spirits Competition, San Francisco International Wine Competition, and New York World Wine & Spirits Competition, founded by wine and spirits authority Anthony Dias Blue. Myself, I am Tasting Director of SWSC.
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