Bathtub brewing

Pǒ-Pó making wine brew

Pǒ-Pó making wine brew

Last year I rushed home to Los Angeles on the last day of Coachella weekend—missing the hologram Tupac resurrection—for a beginner’s course in making Chinese wine brew aka fermented sweet rice aka 甜酒釀 (tian jiu niang). The instructor for this course was none other than Po-Po, who insists on making everything from scratch and refuses to substitute even the most insignificant amount of an ingredient with its store-bought counterpart. Since fermented sweet rice has a supporting role in many of her dishes, it’s become an essential DIY project and a tradition she’s generously passed onto me. 

What is this “wine brew” or “fermented sweet rice” you ask? It’s exactly what it sounds like—glutinous rice fermented until it becomes the prelude to mijiu or “rice wine.” It’s unfiltered and only bears a trace amount of alcohol yet it yields a sweetness that makes it a key ingredient for braised meat and dessert. 

Po-Po's method for making it is pretty standard but her careful execution of the fermentation process was a sight unseen. After the cooked rice was mixed with the wine mold, she poured the prepared concoction into jars that were then swathed in blankets—her version of Snuggies—to control the temperature at which the rice could properly ferment. Who knew that all this time, she had been brewing this fermented sweet grain right in her bedroom? If that’s not legit DIY, I don’t know what is.

Watch Po-Po give me a tutorial on the final stage of the brewing process.