Qimin Yaoshu Wine 2

From EastKingdomWiki

Full Recipe Name
A Method for Making Wine
Recipe Source
Qímín Yàoshù
Þórfinnr Hróðgeirsson
Panel Information
Panel Location: Pennsic
Panel Date: 2017
Score: 86
Beverage Information
Period: Early Middle Ages
Division: Division 4: Wines, Hypocrats, Fortified
Origin: Chinese

Lord Þórfinnr Hróðgeirsson translated a recipe for rice wine, and the yeast starter cakes to make it, from 544 CE farm manual Qímín Yàoshù, made the yeast cakes, and brewed the wine.


Qímín Yàoshù (齊民要術; literally: "essential techniques for the welfare of the people") is a farm manual written in 544 for the emperor of the Eastern Wei dynasty, which ruled north-eastern China at the time. The book contains a broad variety of topics including agriculture, sericulture, cooking and brewing. As it is the earliest complete text we have access to, and it was cited by other authors in period, it forms the basis for the modern understanding of period Chinese beverages. Grain wines in China are fermented using an Aspergillus or Rhizopus fungus to mash the starch into sugar, combined with a yeast. This process was discovered around 500 BCE, and quickly replaced malt beverages. Later sources describe similar processes, for example the Wine Canon of North Hill (北山酒經, 1117 CE), and Exploitation of the Works of Nature (天工開物, 1637 CE), although later developments included seriously souring the rice before fermenting, using a Monascus (the yeast in red yeast rice) culture to give the wine a vibrant red hue, and distillation.

Redacted Recipe

See Qimin Yaoshu Yeast Cakes 2 for the process to make the yeast cakes. Recipe below is scaled to just fit in a 1 gallon wide-mouthed fermenter.

Ingredients and Tools

  • ¼ cup powdered exceptional yeast cakes, about one cake. But do measure.
  • 4.5 cups dry white sticky rice
  • Water
  • 1 gallon, wide-mouthed fermenter - cooked grain can’t go through a narrow mouth
  • Cheesecloth
  • Optionally, liner silk or some other filter fabric finer than your cheesecloth
  • Mortar and pestle


  1. Dry the yeast cakes completely and scrub them clean several times.
  2. Grate, and then grind the yeast cakes in a mortar Let dry in a mesh bag for a few days, then soak them in 1.25 cups water for three days until they start to bubble. Add to your fermenter.
  3. Thoroughly rinse and then soak ¾ cups of dry grain in water overnight. If using millet, polish it in a food processor first.
  4. Steam the rice just until steam comes out of the steamer.
  5. Cover the rice with boiling water.
  6. Let the grain to cool, and then add to the fermenter.
  7. The next day, repeat steps 3-8 with 1.25 cups of grain
  8. The next day, repeat steps 3-8 with 2.5 cups of grain
  9. If using millet, three days later repeat steps 3-8 with 300mL of grain.
  10. The mash will take a few weeks to ferment. Wait until all the floating grains (“ants” in period) settle. Transfer it into a cheesecloth or strainer bag and press it to extract the wine. You can use your hands, or a board in a trough. To use your hands, twist the bag and massage the mash. Fully pressed mash is about the consistency of cooked cornmeal.
  11. Optionally filter a second time through densely-woven silk.

Transfer to a closed container, let settle, and then decant and bottle.

Þórfinnr used a one-gallon glass jar for a fermenter, with a bubbler. A period fermenter would have been a much larger - the ¼ cup measure in this redaction should be closer to a liter - earthenware urn, seasoned and sealed with animal fat. He had previously used large bowls with the intent to simulate higher levels of air exposure, but with poor results. This wine needs to ferment on the grain for a few weeks, and would turn to vinegar with that much air, especially when scaled down.

Due to time constraints, this wine had not quite finished fermenting when it was packaged for Pennsic.

Deviations from Period Practice

The yeast cakes contain several steps away from period practice for practical reasons. They were produced in a modern western kitchen, without a wok, so instead a frying pan was used, and they were ground in a spice grinder. A quern would likely yield a finer grind. They were cured in a simulation of a hut, but they dried a little too fast, and with too little oxygen.

During the winemaking, my biggest steps away from period are in the batch size, the choice of fermenter, and the pressing technology. Period depictions show box presses being used for wine, and the text itself makes references to pressing using boards on top of troughs.


This beverage is presented in a replica of a Roman glass bottle. Roman glassware has been found in China as early as the 1st century BCE, and was highly regarded as a luxury good, making it an appropriate fit for the kind of nobility able to command servants to produce wine in large quantities on their estates.

Original Recipe

For the original recipe and a close translation, see Þórfinnr's blog


  • 齊民要術
  • 賈思勰, 繆啟愉. 齊民要術校釋, second edition. Beijing, China Agriculture Press, 2009.
  • Kroll, Paul W. A Student's Dictionary of Classical and Medieval Chinese. Boston, Koninklijke Brill, 2015.
  • Huang, H. T. Science and Civilisation in China Volume 6 Biology and Biological Technology Part 5 Fermentations and Food Science. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2000.
  • An, Jiayao. (2002). "When Glass Was Treasured in China", in Annette L. Juliano and Judith A. Lerner (eds), Silk Road Studies VII: Nomads, Traders, and Holy Men Along China's Silk Road, 79–94. Turnhout: Brepols Publishers. ISBN 2-503-52178-9.