Chinese Yellow Rice Wine Or Huangjiu

chinese traditional yellow rice wine jar isolated on white.
Photo by chuyu, c/o

Chinese yellow rice wine or Huangjiu (Chinese: 黄酒) is a traditional alcoholic beverage of long-standing over many centuries. It might have been around since 2,500. The wine is found only in China and is only available in that country but it appears to be developing a cult following amongst those outside China.

This famous beverage is frequently referenced in Chinese literature. Its first official record is found in the Spring and Autumn Annals of Lu, a  241-year-old chronicle documenting of the State of Lu which existed from 722 BC to 481 BC. During the Song Dynasty (960AD-1279), yellow wine made from Shaoxing in China’s coastal Zhejiang province became particularly sought-after, and was a regular tipple for the Song Royal Court.


Hunagjiu is mainly fermented from glutinous rice but various cereal grains such as millet, wheat and sorghum are also used or mixed together. This is used as a substrate rich in starch  to which is added yeast and a mix of proteolyic and starch-degrading enzymes from wheat and called Qu (Chen & Xu, 2010). The yeast strains are especially important for both development of flavour and the therapeutic properties of the product.

The beverage is pasteurised before being left to age. It is usually filtered before sale to the consumer. Some types are over 20 years old and considered the finest in quality. There are many styles and it is possible now to find all of them in Western retailers. The colour is the single measure of quality and ranges from pale straw yellow to a dark brown.

The water is really the single most important ingredient in this wine. 

The wine is not distilled and contains less than 20% alcohol (ABV). It is usually drunk at ambient temperature although some swear that the aroma is more distinctive when it is warmed as a brandy.


Given so many years of development, there are a number of different styles and types. These are classified as Daizhou, Shaoxing, Jinhua, Danyang, Shandong Lanling Yellow Wine etc. The type of rice wine also depends on the type of cereal grain used in the fermentation process.

Sugar content also has a part to play. Rather like grape-based wines, there are different levels of dryness. These are categorized with increasing sweetness as Dry, Half-dry, Half-sweet and Sweet Yellow Wine.

The most famous type comes from Shaoxing in Zhejiang province, originally due to the pure water of Mirror Lake that was used to make it. Yuanhong – or “Champion’s Red” – is named for the earthenware jars that the wine is aged in. Traditionally in Shaoxing, new parents will buy a jar of this huangjiu and bury it when their child is born, to be dug up to celebrate achievements in the child’s life, like getting married or graduating from school.

Health Benefits

Huangjiu, irrespective of its alcohol content, has also been used in Chinese traditional medicine as a therapeutic and medicinal product. The benefits extend to cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and treating atherosclerosis (Lu et al., 2015). Not enough clinical data is available to support such views but there is considerable interest in the product.

Whilst the effect of alcohol might relax the muscles, Huangjiu is claimed to help induce relaxation. The nutrients in this wine are thiamine or vitamin B1, vitamin B2 and vitamin E.

How To Drink Huangjiu

The traditional method of drinking Huangjiu is to warm it so that the flavour is allowed to develop.The quality of the water is also important. two traditional methods are to place the wine in a pot within a warming pot of warm water and the other is to heat a bottle over the fire. The wine is drunk at blood heat but should not be held too long because the alcohol disappears and the aromas are irreversibly reduced.

Younger fold actually drink it cold and when refrigerated is a fine cocktail drink.

The main producers generally of rice wine are Zhejiang GuYueLongShan Shaoxing Wine Co., Zhejiang Tapai Shaoxingjiu Limited Company, Zhangjiagang Brewery, Kuaijishan Shaoxing Rice, ShangHai JinFeng Wine Company Limited, Shanghai Shikumen Vintage Limited Company, NingBo Alalaojiu, JiMo Laojiu, Fangxian Lulingwang Wine Business Co.,Ltd., Suzhou Baihua Yangniangzao Limited Company, Guangdong Mingzhu Group Co., Ltd., Zhejiang China Light, Tong Ren Tang, Anhui Gunanfeng.


Chen, S. & Xu, Y. (2010). The Influence of Yeast Strains on the Volatile Flavour Compounds of Chinese Rice Wine. Journal of the Institute of Brewing, 116, pp. 190-196

Huang, Z.-R., Guo, W.-L., Zhou, W.-B., Li, L., Xu, J.-X., Hong, J.-L., Liu, H.-P., Zeng, F., Bai, W.-D., Liu, B., Ni, L., Rao, P.-F. & Lv, X.-C. (2019). Microbial communities and volatile metabolites in different traditional fermentation starters used for Hong Qu glutinous rice wine. Food Research International, 121, pp. 593-603.

Lu, Q.-Y., Lee, R.-P., Huang, J., Yang, J., Henning, S. M., Hong, X., Heber, D. & Li, Z. (2015). Quantification of bioactive constituents and antioxidant activity of Chinese yellow wine. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, 44, pp. 86-92.

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  1. Hi Alan,

    Many thanks for your note. When I’ve looked for Chinese Rice Wine generally in the UK I’ve looked at suppliers of Shaoshing which is the yellow rice wine used for culinary purposes and the Huangjiu wine which is a more generic dessert/culinary rice wine. Its possible to buy off Amazon but there are some specific importers in the UK. I’d look at Asian Online Superstore UK ( and orientalmart ( as two good starting places. Good luck with your searching !

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