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Chiayi Distillery of the Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corporation

Chiayi Distillery of the Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corporation has set many records in more than 106 years of its operation. It was the first liquor factory in Taiwan to produce Kaoliang spirit (sorghum liquor), establish the cultural center for liquor and open a “bank” of liquors, where consumers of fine wines could bank on urns of sorghum liquor as investment, since its price increases as it ages with fragrance. 

There are currently 13 tourist factories owned by the Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corporation, including Jianguo Brewery, which has been transformed into Taipei Beer Cultural Park; three beer factories in Zhunan, Wuri, and Shanhua; as well as nine wineries in Taoyuan, Taichung, Nantou, Puli, Chiayi, Longtian, Hualien, Yilan, and Pingtung. 

In 1916 (Taisho era, 5th year), a Japanese merchant, Akashi Hatsutaro, ran the Taisho Brewery in Taiwan and established four branch factories in Chiayi, Taichung, Douliu, and Beigang. After the monopoly system was implemented in 1922 (Taisho era, 11th year), his breweries were taken and merged by the government, but continued to produce alcohol. 

During the Second World War, the branch factory in Chiayi was severely damaged by Allied bombing. It was not repaired and production was halted until Taiwan’s restoration when the factory was placed under the Bureau’s control, in which the name was first changed to “No. 6 Factory of the Taiwan Provincial Monopoly Bureau” and later to “No. 6 Winery of the Taiwan Tobacco and Wine Monopoly Bureau,” before it was finalized as “Chiayi Distillery of the Taiwan Tobacco and Wine Monopoly Bureau.” 

Chiayi Distillery was originally located in the downtown area next to the Chiayi Railway Station with an area of 3.7 hectares. Although there were acts of purchase or transfer of the surrounding lands, the high cost of the original plot of land and its surroundings made it difficult to expand the station and for this reason and as part of city planning, the factory was included in the relocation plan, as a way to increase tobacco and alcohol production. Chiayi Distillery of the Taiwan Tobacco and Wine Monopoly Bureau purchased the land at No. 4, Zhongshan Road, Shuangfu Village, Minsyong Industrial Park, for a new factory complex of 28.5 hectares, which was completed in separate stages for two factory buildings of Shaoxing liquor and Kaoliang spirit and processed liquors. 

In November 1998, to promote wine culture, the Chiayi Distillery first established a museum of liquors, in which various wine-related artifacts of the company are housed in a building of at least a thousand pings in area. There are showrooms displaying the history of liquors. The factory, especially including various machineries in wine production from the old site, such as the steamer, the distiller, the rice cooler, the koji (yeast) fermenter, the koji (yeast) loader, the filter, the nailing machine, the wine loader, the sealing machine, the labeling machine, the manual magnetic wine bottle loader, etc., is amazingly still in working order. Visitors are able to truly experience the former production line and appreciate the effort and the passion of these employees to produce good wines for the public. 

The wine urn symbolizes the vitality of Chiayi Distillery. In 1950, the factory received the order of using Kaoliang from Penghu as the substrate to successfully develop their product. The main raw materials of Kaoliang spirit are sorghum and wheat, which must undergo three rounds of fermentation and distillation before extracting the essence as the final product for packaging. This results in the unique distilled liquor by using solid state fermentation and distillation. 

In fact, the Chiayi Distillery still possesses the earliest batch of Kaoliang spirit, sealed in a 28-liter pottery urn, which makes it more than 50 years of wine age and a priceless treasure of the Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corporation. The fine pores of the wine urn reduce the spiciness of the alcohol and catalyze the mellowness of the wine, thus making it the best environment to store liquor.

In 1953, Kaoliang spirit produced by the Chiayi Distillery was exported to Hong Kong for the first time, delivering 140 units of Taiwan Kaoliang in 25-liter wine urns. This was the first step in the export history of Taiwanese liquor. Along the path of entrepreneurship for the company, the foreman from Shangdong led the team to manually produce the right yeasts, similar to the way done in mainland China. Also, given that urns were not easy to come by and might crack after some time, a mix of iron powder with vinegar would be used to fill these openings as a way to save money for the company. After much effort, the company eventually became capable of mechanized mass production. The old way of using wine urns was no longer needed, and they were painted to become another unique form of collectible art. 

After the success of Kaoliang spirit, the Distillery continued to develop its related products, such as aged sorghum liquor, first-quality sorghum liquor, and top-quality aged sorghum liquor. Later, it also launched processed liquors like Seng Rong liquor, Ng Ka Py liquor, Chu Yeh Ching, Fleece flower root liquor and Premium aged Shaohsing. These liquors have not only made the company into a well-known domestic brand of liquors but also turned the company into the champion choice at international wine tasting competitions, not to mention its undefeated spot at state banquets. 

When visiting its warehouse, one would be shocked to observe 29-meter piles of raw materials in storage, containing 20,000 metric tons of sorghum and 10,000 metric tons of wheat. Domestically, this is the biggest barn in the manufacturing industry. On one side, an automated warehouse can store a total of 750 thousand dozen of liquor, equivalent to nine million liquor bottles. Looking back at the old photos, seeing the company’s start with handicrafts, the more we explore the taste and fragrance of sorghum liquor, the more we unravel the touching story of employees working together with the company to create a promising future.