Weidong Wei is the founder of Dong-Ye, a whisky distillery in China’s Hunan province who will produce one of China’s first single malt whiskies. I had the pleasure of catching up with Weidong to hear more about his plans and inspiration.
Part 1: You and your distillery / whisky / brand
Andrew Stark: What inspired you to create a whisky distillery?
Weidong Wei: Maybe it’s out of respect and love for whisky. At first we (in China) came into contact with whisky only through large bars and nightclubs.
However, with the further understanding of whisky, I began to be moved by the culture behind whisky and the truth and sincerity conveyed through whisky production.
These beautiful things, however, completely conflict with the locally produced “whisky” which uses the wrong production methods for me to relate to it as genuine whisky. Those products are completely obliterating any new drinker who is interested in whisky.
At the same time, I also found that I am not only strongly interested in making whisky, but also hope to convey China’s customs and territory to
whisky lovers in other parts of the world through my whisky like other new whisky distilleries and countries.
AS: What will make your whisky different, and how will it be comparable to Scotch whisky?
WW: Scotch Whisky has always been my respect and love, I try to be as good as Scotch, but as a student, I always appreciate Scotch Whisky humbly. But no matter how hard you try to be as great as your teacher, differences in all aspects will still bring different characteristics.
AS: Tell me some things about your whisky – what can we expect? What type of wood/climate etc will influence it?
WW: Our products so far have used 6-row barley from Northwest China, but we’re now trying to grow 2-row, 4-rows and 6-row barley locally in Hunan. Also, in addition to some traditional barrels, I am also testing Mongolian oak.
In addition to my own design and personal handmade copper pot stills, the controllable proportional direct fire steam heating system is adopted, and all the peat used to smoke malt comes from China too. All these efforts will eventually be reflected in the final products – creating differences and bringing a Chinese influence.
AS: Is there a story behind the whisky name / brand?
WW: The name currently recorded in The Whisky Yearbook is a temporary name, Dong-ye. This is a traditional Chinese appellation. “Ye” (爺) is added after a person’s last name to express that he is a real man. But the official name will be Dong-Wei. The Chinese meaning is Oriental power and also Oriental whisky, and very coincidentally, the pronunciation of Dong-Wei is my name if you look backwards.
AS: How will you be positioning your whisky in terms of customer, occasion, price point etc?
WW: To tell the truth, this issue is very commercial. I have been trying to make whisky better before, ignoring this aspect. But I positioned myself more for whisky lovers and whisky bars more than nightclubs and other places. I will determine the price of my products by conducting some blind test by whisky fans.
Keep an eye out for Part 2 of this chat with Weidong; “The Chinese Whisky Industry”.