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China - The New Whisky Producing Frontier

Updated: Mar 5


China whisky distilleries

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


With the demand for whisky increasing globally, China has become one of the biggest alcoholic beverage markets in the world. For the first time in history, the whisky-producing wave is penetrating new frontiers with no previous interest in distilling their own. In recent years, the Chinese middle class has acquired a taste and demand for quality whisky which big companies like Pernod Ricard and Diageo are more than happy to answer. The race is on to produce the first Chinese single malt.


But why are companies investing millions to start distilleries in China? And why now? The Whisky Ardvark will investigate.



 

The State of The Adventure


We remember only five years ago kindly correcting a customer asking for whisky made in China, that perhaps they mean Japan since China doesn't produce whisky. Today the conversation would sound a lot different.


China has finally opened its doors to companies with long-lasting traditions and know-how in making whisky, to help them establish their very own whisky industry alongside their already thriving Baijiu-making tradition. The potential of the market has attracted businesses from around the spectrum.


Depending on who to trust, there are currently 11 to 26 whisky distilleries in China - under planning, construction, or already operational. We here at The Whisky Ardvark have only managed to verify 13 of them since some Chinese companies are famously secretive and cautious when it comes to the internet. On many occasions, the only proof of the possible existence of some of the distilleries is the name on Wikipedia influenced by an unverified list on a map provided by the Chinese online retail platform Oak & Barley in 2022 (please see the photo underneath). As you can see, 2 of the 'Chinese' distilleries pictured are in Taiwan (King Car & Nantou), which we recognize as its own whisky-producing entity.


Oak & Barley map of Chinese whisky distilleries many not verified

Image by Oak & Barley


We wanted to provide our readers with a map of our own with the 13 whisky distilleries in China which we were able to verify through research and proofs of existence.


Map of verifiable Chinese whisky distilleries

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


Let's take a quick look at the 4 biggest whisky projects in the works in China.


 

Diageo - Eryuan Malt Whisky Distillery


In November 2021 Diageo broke ground in Eryuan County, Yunnan Province for their new $75 million (£61,5 million) malt distillery. The Eryuan malt whisky distillery will be a carbon-neutral endeavour once operational.


Diageo Eryuan Malt Whisky Distillery China Yunnan Province

Image by Diageo

 

Pernod Ricard - The Chuan Malt Whisky Distillery


The Pernod Ricard-owned Chuan malt whisky distillery started construction in August 2021 in Emeishan. With an investment of £150 million (£123 million) reserved for the first ten years, the distillery promises a must-see experience destination for whisky lovers.


Pernod Ricard The Chuan Malt Whisky Distillery China Emeishan

Image by Pernod Ricard



 

Mengtai Group - Mengtai Malt Whisky Distillery


In 2019 a big Inner Mongolian privately owned Mengtai Group and Scottish firm Valentine International joined forces to build a whisky distillery in Ordos City, Inner Mongolia. In 2021, 35 tons of distilling equipment made by Forsyths were shipped to the location.


Mengtai Group Mengtai Malt Whisky Distillery China Inner Mongolia

Image by Whiskey Raiders


 

Nine Rivers Single Malt Distillery


So far the biggest single malt distillery plans are in effect in Da Chi village, Fujian Province funded by around 112 people from 19 different countries around the world. The Nine Rivers distillery project will employ 12 stills with a maximum capacity of 15 million litres of pure alcohol per annum.


Nine Rivers single malt distillery China Fujian Province plan

Image by Nine Rivers Distillery


 

Why Go From Importers to Market Insiders?


Since 2019, it has seemed like companies are suddenly flooding China to start their distilleries. Also, more and more alcohol brands are trying to get their footing through customs by using importing agencies.


China has famously strict food and beverage customs rules including a lot of paperwork, taxes, and logistics costs. On the 1st of January, 2022 new regulations about food safety, storage, and manufacturing came into effect for importers - some of whom were unable to access the self-registration website. Companies wishing to continue exporting their goods to China were met with only little warning and vague instructions. The website didn't work in every country and was only published in Chinese a couple of months before the deadline. Especially Irish whiskies were feeling the heat and found it difficult to meet the requirements.


Establishing a whisky distillery in China has become a great choice for those who wish to make things easier and cheaper in the long run - which it's all about. Becoming an industry insider instead of an importer makes sense when targeting the growing Chinese alcoholic beverage market. In recent years China has been described by many as the "world's largest spirits market" and companies are rushing in to get their cut of the big pie.


The route from the producer to the customer can be shortened by local distillation, also cutting costs. Although beverage companies won't stop importing their famous brands to China, it will be beneficial to be able to offer locally-produced whiskies for the local market at a reasonable price.


Producing a Chinese malt whisky (or a blend) will also come with the intriguing challenge of setting a baseline for a new style of whisky and the industry that follows. Since Chinese whisky doesn't yet have its own identity in the eyes of the Western world, it will be interesting to see what route the producers will take, and how the new distilleries' products will tackle the already existing competition by local brands.


This is also the chance for the deemed Chinese whisky industry to redeem itself by flushing out the bad eggs with possible future regulations to protect the category and the consumers.



 

Did You Know?


For Scottish whiskies, the battle of the use of the term 'Scotch' in China has been a major headache. The Scottish Whisky Association SWA has established Scotch as a trademark reserved for whiskies produced in Scotland, but China's blooming plagiarism market has a long history of misusing the term. According to SWA, since 2008 they have investigated more than 200 Chinese brands labelled as Scotch even though the origin of the spirits can be questioned.


In 2008 a deal between UK and China was made to secure the trademark 'Scotch whisky' to try and tackle the illegal market. The deal was renewed in 2018 for 10 years.


Counterfeiting whisky has also been a problem in China. One of the latest reported poisonings happened in 2017 in Guangdong province where 22 people were rushed to a hospital for consuming methanol-rich 'whisky'. The two brands Flylions and Faliya were mainly served at a bar called Muse in Heyuan, and after the incident, they were banned throughout the country.


Dangerous fake whisky China Flylions Faliya

Image by Guangdong Food and Drug Administration

 

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