Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Register of Alcohol, and a Rebranding

This blog is really no longer about my normal homebrewing, so I think it's time to rename it.

I'm going to take a page from Brewing with Egil and choose an appropriate mythical / historical patron for this blog.  Wikipedia suggests that there are two "candidates" for the mythical inventor of alcohol in China, Yu the Great and Du Kang.  Yu the Great did way too many things to be a reasonable patron since better known for (mythically) building the system of dikes and levees that ended flooding in China.  But Du Kang is really only known for alcohol, and has had poems and the like written about him, so I think that makes sense.

Fermenting with Du Kang it is!

I think it's also worth looking at some other texts that mention alcohol, particularly since I've had a moment to look through the bibliography from Science and Civilisation in China.  One very short book I had been looking at before I found the Qimin Yaoshu is the Jiupu (酒譜), the register of alcohol, a Song dynasty text by Dou Pin (竇蘋).  This isn't a recipe book, it's really just a page or two of quotations on the topic of alcohol.

One section that seems very useful is a glossary of a few terms about alcohol:

5 《說文》曰:酴,酒母也。醴,一宿酒也。醪,滓汁酒也。酎,三重酒也。醨,薄酒也。醑,莤酒也。

Shuowen [Shuowen Jiezi, an influential early 2nd century CE dictionary] says: 酴 [tú] is the mother of wine. 醴 [lǐ] is a one-night wine. 醪 [láo] is a wine with sediment in it. 酎 [zhòu] is a three-times wine. 醨 [lí] is a weak wine. 醑 [xǔ] is wine used for libations in ceremonies.

Láo is what the Qimin Yaoshu calls the glutinous rice wine I'm about to make, so I expect it to be cloudy.  I think that this means it's meant to be drunk young, but I'll have to experiment with the cloudiness.

Another interesting section:


A poem by Pi Rixiu reads: “Tomorrow morning has a thing that satisfies the gentleman’s trust, three bottles of jujube wine send off the night to sail.” where “jujube wine” is the name for a wine from beyond the Yangtse river.

I've got some dried jujubes and a recipe from another sources, so that might get on the list at some point.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A whole lot of new information

A few days ago I was shopping for glutinous rice and it occurred to me that I didn't know whether I should get polished (white) glutinous rice or brown/black/purple glutinous rice.  So I asked

I got an answer!  It's white rice.

But the historian who answered me cited two works:

Bray, Francesca. Science and Civilisation in China Volume 6, Part 2: Agriculture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984. 381-86.
Shi, Sheng-han. A Preliminary Survey of the Book Ch’i Min Yao Shu: An Agricultural Encyclopedia of the 6th Century.Peking: Science, 1974. 53-54 (an annotated English-language translation of Qimin Yao Shu).
The first book is one I knew existed but costs something like $300 on Amazon.  So its contents are a mystery.  But the second one is the same book I've been working on translating... and there's apparently an English translation already floating around.

In my defense, I didn't find it because that translation is using an older romanization scheme than I'm using, so searching for "Qimin Yaoshu" doesn't turn up "Ch'i Min Yao Shu."  But regardless, I'm both excited that I can access the information more easily and disappointed that my work isn't as novel as I had hoped.

The lovely person who responded to my question on reddit also gave me a picture of the bibliography tables from Science and Civilization in China:

... but also I've found a digital copy of the entire book floating around the web by googling "Science and Civilisation in China Volume 6 Part 5," so I'm working on reading it to get more info out.

I think my path forward is this:  buy the English copy of Qimin Yaoshu, but only read the chapters I'm not translating, and when I'm done with translating what I'm working I'll cross-check and see what the differences are.  I'm not sure I'm going to trust Shi Shenghan's translation without cross-checking.

And of course, I want to take a crack at the rest of the books in this bibliography.  They're closer to the typical medieval period, and I suppose they're less likely to be already translated.


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Monday, August 10, 2015

White Cloudy Wine

I wanted to find a recipe that didn't require seven batches of grain, so I started on another short recipe elsewhere in scroll seven.

I didn't translate the process for making the yeast cakes because I'm not going to make them, although it seems to be similar to the process for the lumpy yeast cakes I translated earlier, using the same grain mixture.

As usual, each sentence in Chinese is followed by my translation in English.

釀白醪法:取糯米一石,冷水淨淘,漉出著甕中,作魚眼沸湯浸之。To make white young wine: take one dan of glutinous rice (Oryza sativa var. glutinosa), rinse it in cold water until clean, strain it and put it in a weng, and soak it in water boiling with bubbles like fish eyes. 經一宿,米欲絕酢,炊作一餾飯,攤令絕冷。Pass one night, and the rice should be decidedly sour; steam it, and once it’s cooked spread it out to cool. 取魚眼湯沃浸米泔二斗,煎取六升,著甕中,以竹掃衝之,如茗渤。Take two dou of the water from rinsing the rice, and boil it with bubbles like fish eyes down to six sheng (0.6 dou), put it in the weng, then take a bamboo broom and assault it, until it is like the froth on boiled tea. 復取水六斗,細羅麴末一斗,合飯一時內甕中,和攪令飯散。以氊物裹甕,并口覆之。Next, take six sheng of water, finely sift one dou of powdered yeast balls, join it with the rice, and after a time inside the weng, gently stir it until the cooked rice is dispersed. 經宿米消,取生疏布漉出糟。After passing a night, the rice will disintegrate; take a new, loosely-woven cloth and strain out the dregs. 別炊好糯米一斗作飯,熱著酒中為汛,以單布覆甕。Take an additional one dan of cooked glutinous rice, and while it’s hot put it into the alcohol until it’s submerged, then take a single layered cloth and cover the weng. 經一宿,汛米消散,酒味備矣。After passing one night, the submerged rice will have dissolved and spread out, and the alcohol’s flavor should have become full. 若天冷,停三五日彌善。If you have cold weather, delay 3-5 days and it will be completely excellent. 一釀一斛米,一斗麴末,六斗水,六升浸米漿。In one ferment, use one hu of rice, one dou of powdered yeast balls, six dou of water, and six sheng of the boiled-down rice water broth. 若欲多釀,依法別甕中作,不得併在一甕中。If you want to ferment more, follow these procedures in other weng, don’t combine them into the same weng. 四月、五月、六月、七月皆得作之。The fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh months are all good for making this. 其麴預三日以水洗令淨,曝乾用之。Three days in advance, take the yeast cakes for this recipe, and using water wash them until they are clean, then air them in the sun until you can dry them.

One interesting line that gave me some trouble translating is this one:

經一宿,米欲絕酢,炊作一餾飯,攤令絕冷。Pass one night, and the rice should be decidedly sour; steam it, and once it’s cooked spread it out to cool.

It's surprising to me that the wine would be sour at all. At first, I had translated it as "and the rice should be not at all sour" because a modern meaning of 絕 (jué, sixth character from the start) is "by no means," but neither Student's Dictionary nor Wang Li's Dictionary give that meaning. Instead, they both give meanings like "especially," "decidedly," "definitely," along with some other meanings that don't fit this context.

I was really struggling with this until I got to the last clause: 攤令絕冷, which if you translate character by character is something like "spread cause jué cold," and there's really no way that this doesn't mean "spread it out until it's quite cool." I think it's unlikely to the point of absurdity that the author of this book would use completely opposite meanings of a character in the same sentence, so I guess we'll have to wait until I can make this to see if it makes any sense.

I'm pretty excited to make this.  The next step is to make a redacted recipe and go buy glutinous rice.  I'm also glad to have evidence of straining using cloth, although again straining at the end of the recipe is not mentioned - maybe they were just letting it settle at the end?  It's hard to tell.

Edit: nearly forgot!  There's a comment in the book saying that this is the method used by the family of someone with the surname Huangfu, who is in the Ministry of Appointments.

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I spent last week attending Pennsic, and brought my lumpy yeast cake wine to the Arts and Sciences display,
as well as the inter-kingdom brewing competition and the East kingdom brewers' guild panel.  What a blast!  Getting to share this weird beverage with so many people was really fun, especially since some people actually liked it, and some people really hated it.
About 60 people came by my booth at the A&S display and tried the millet wine, consuming a little over half a gallon.  What I didn't know at the beginning is that the wine settles out very quickly, so by the end of the display, I was pouring something the consistency of pancake batter.  The flavor didn't change much, so I suspect that the heavy notes of bread are coming from the suspended yeast.  More study is needed to figure out what the flavor is like after letting it settle for a few weeks.
I got a lot of great feedback at the brewing competitions.  Of course, I'd really love to make the source yeast cakes rather than using commercial yeast balls, but I also want to get a better understanding of how this wine (and the other related wines in the book) fit into the broader spectrum of Chinese alcohols and production techniques.  I'd also like to figure out how these wines were drunk in period, out of what vessels, and in what contexts.
A really really brief search for answers at the wonderful shows at least one text from about the same period as the Qimin Yaoshu mentioning millet wine specifically, and skimming it I think it's talking about using it for some alchemical purpose.  Neat!  More reading is required.

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Survey of Vinegar Recipes

Scroll 8 in Qimin Yaoshu has twenty-three  vinegar recipes in it.  I've now translated them all, and rather than posting them fully, I t...