Distiller Wuliangye: Science and testing aid ancient process
The liquor brand Wuliangye has become a household name in China for the unique taste of its products based on centuries-old techniques.
But at its sprawling facility in Yibin, Sichuan province, Wuliangye Group has also developed a modern approach to the process using a quality control system that won global recognition over the past three decades.
The company said its comprehensive quality management has played a crucial role in ensuring the liquor’s superior taste.
Back in the early 1980s, Wuliangye began comprehensive quality management and developed a control system in 1985 that covers the whole processes from raw materials and production to sales, according to the company.
Wuliangye received China’s very first product quality certificate in 1988.
In 1994, the distiller passed checks by France’s BVQI, a global leader in testing, inspection and certification services, and won an internationally recognized certificate for the first time.
In 2005, the company started to implement its own liquor quality and safety certification.
In 2007, it passed the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point — or HACCP —certification, whose purpose is to identify and manage hazards in the food industry and reduce the risks of contamination.
“Under the requirement of the certification, the raw materials — five kinds of grains — and even the water used for distilling will go through repetitive and rigorous tests,” said Chen Hongkun, an engineer at Wuliangye’s quality control department.
He said not only the basic ingredients but also accessories for production are tested and processed according to the strictest standards.
For instance, “it’s necessary to soak the packaging materials in special solutions for seven consecutive days and test the substance in the solutions before they are sent to the packaging plant”, Chen said.
Critical control point
He said that the purchasing department is a critical control point at the group with a strong supervision team to look after the entire supply chain.
Every year, the company evaluates its suppliers and every batch of raw materials is tested right before being put into use.
“We’re very demanding in purchasing, and it’s common for us to return goods that fail to meet our requirements,” said Peng Zhifu, deputy general manager of Wuliangye Group.
The rejections help hammer home the importance of quality to the whole industrial chain and continued improvements in overall quality management, Peng said.
In addition to inspection of raw materials, the company also pays special attention to water quality.
He said the clean local water is indispensable to Wuliangye’s success. Its water inspection department keeps an eye on the source around the clock and samples the water every two hours. Water used at every critical control point in the whole production process is then tested.
“There are more than 100 test items and at the moment we’re considering expanding the number to 300 or 400,” said Chen Hongkun.
He added that every barrel of liquor is subjected to an overall test before delivery.
He said a great number of innovative testing techniques, technologies and instruments have been used for quality control.
“Our quality test lab is among the most advanced in China, and at the moment we’re applying for establishing a national quality testing center,” said Chen.
In 2011, the lab was accredited by the China National Accreditation Service for Conformity Assessment, an authoritative organization responsible for certificating laboratories and inspection bodies.
The lab boasts more than 580 types of advanced testing equipment, including more than 60 large- scale modern analysis instruments such as an atomic absorption spectrometer, ion, gas and liquid chromatographs and an automatic strain detector.
Wuliangye’s technical personnel offer support to other national research institutions, higher learning institutions and companies to help them improve quality and innovation, said Deputy General Manager Peng.
At present, there are more than 2,000 technical personnel at Wuliangye, including five well-known distilling masters and dozens of experienced liquor tasters.
Researchers and liquor tasters work together for product quality assurance and improvement.
Using cutting-edge technology and equipment, Wuliangye’s lab is among the most advanced in the industry.