There's a secret brewing in Jalan Besar
Past the tidy little shopfront of 11 Cavan Road lies a well-kept secret. Behind discreet corrugated glass doors, eight pots sit, quietly nurturing a brew that the Ng family has been making for three generations. We aren’t talking about some Noma-esque fermentation project, or even trendy craft beer: kept alive here, is the tradition of brewing Chinese rice wine.
When the family's patriarch immigrated to Singapore in 1930 from Wenzhou, China, the professional carpenter brought with him the art of brewing rice wine with red yeast. Previously made only during the cooler months at the end of the year, the home brew was a hit with family and friends, with many eagerly offering to trade their wares for their warming rice wine and nourishing wine lees. After Grandpa Yu’s passing in 2017 at the grand old age of 99, the family continued to make rice wine, and the encouragement from friends and family who have been using their brew over the years prompted them to turn household tradition into a business.
W Rice Wine was launched on National Day of 2019 by founder Mdm Sharon Ng and her son Mr Danny Ng, starting with just a single pot that could produce 20 bottles of rice wine at a go. Since then, W Rice Wine has quietly and quickly earned a reputation for its artisanal products: apart from gastronomes in the know, their products are also sought after by restaurateurs and chefs. W Rice Wine is currently in talks to work with a few Michelin-starred restaurant too. Intrigued? Here are more surprising facts about this proudly Made in Singapore company:
1) Who the Wu?
The W in W Rice Wine stands for the family's surname Chinese surname 余 . Though pronounced “Yu” in mandarin, it is pronounced as “Wu” in the Wenzhou dialect.
2) The family has roots in Jalan Besar
Second and third-generation owners of W Rice Wine — and mother-and-son team that is Mdm Sharon Ng and Mr Danny Ng — fondly recalls living in Jalan Besar between the Seventies and Eighties. The youthful-looking 61 year-old fondly remembers a street near the current Berseh Food Centre, which was lined with itinerant hawkers who would open late. “We would go from stall to stall, trying different items… the mee siam was the best.” While she laments the closing of old shops, and the quiet disappearance of rustic old-time flavours, Jalan Besar continues to hold a special place in her heart. “We still have feelings for this place — that’s why we chose to open our shop here.”
3) Their food recipes come from 94 year-old grandma Yu
While the recipe and methods for making rice wine was passed down by grandpa Yu, 94 year-old grandma Yu is the matriarch who has been executing the production all these years. Now, the second and third-generation members of the family still bring their brews for her tasting evaluation and nod of approval. Apart from being the bearer of the family’s wine-brewing standards, she is also the walking human repository of recipes. In fact, the many recipes put up on W Rice Wine’s social media platforms are largely grandma Yu’s creations.
4) Grandpa Yu’s original 90 year-old vat is still being used
This is the vat that started it all. But sorry to disappoint: the grand cru (ok, we kid — it’s still the same wine, made with the same ingredients and in the same way) in this receptacle is reserved purely for the family’s own consumption.
5) Exacting standards that make a difference
The eight new pots that are the work horses of the company are not just any pots. Each pot (which holds 20kg of the highest quality, fat-grained glutinous rice sourced from a Northern Thai grower which the Ng family personally visited) is crafted in Jingdezhen — a historical city in China known as the home of true porcelain. “It’s purity we were after, and we found it in Jingdezhen pottery that is made with kaolin clay,” explains Mr Ng. Each vessel is also in a specific shape to minimise oxidation while allowing the mixture within to breathe.
6) In the same classification as the oldest wine in Chinese history
If fiery baijiu such as Moutai and Wuliangye come to mind when you think of rice wine, think again. What W Rice Wine produces is huangjiu, which usually has a mild 11 – 12% alcohol content, compared to the typical 57% in the distilled liquor that is baijiu.
7) A toast to health
While W Rice Wine promotes their products as cooking ingredients, huangjiu has also been favoured by the Chinese for its health-boosting properties. “Not many know this aspect of rice wine as it is mostly associated with confinement — but it really can be enjoyed by those across all ages,” shares Mr Ng. “In fact, Jiang Zemin was advised by his medical consult to take a sip of rice wine every day as a night cap!” To note, the former political leader of China is now 94 years-old. Notice a trend here?
For a sip of this all-natural goodness, visit W Rice Wine at 11 Cavan Road. They’ve got an exclusive discount just for the Jalanjalan.me community too! Simply scan the Jalanjalan.me QR code at the store to enjoy this privilege. And while you are there, check out the other cool spots around Jalan Besar. Award winning photographer Darren Soh also counts this as one of his favourite neighbourhoods to shoot, so be sure to bring your camera along, and tag us in your pictures!