Daqu is a traditional fermentation starter that is used for Chinese liquor production. Although partly mechanized, its manufacturing process has remained traditional. We investigated the microbial diversity of Fen- Daqu, a starter for light-flavour liquor, using combined culture-dependent and culture-independent approaches (PCR-DGGE). A total of 190 microbial strains, comprising 109 bacteria and 81 yeasts and moulds, were isolated and identified on the basis of the sequences of their 16S rDNA (bacteria) and 26S rDNA and ITS regions (fungi). DGGE of DNA extracted from Daqu was used to complement the culture-dependent method in order to include non-culturable microbes. Both approaches revealed that Bacillus licheniformis was an abundant bacterial species, and Saccharomycopsis fibuligera, Wickerhamomyces anomalus, and Pichia kudriavzevii were the most common yeasts encountered in Fen- Daqu. Six genera of moulds (Absidia, Aspergillus, Mucor, Rhizopus, Rhizomucor and Penicillium) were found. The potential function of these microorganisms in starters for alcoholic fermentation is discussed. In general the culture-based findings overlapped with those obtained by DGGE by a large extent. However, Weissella cibaria, Weissella confusa, Staphylococcus saprophyticus, Enterobacter aerogenes, Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis, Lactobacillus lactis, and Bacillus megaterium were only revealed by DGGE. Â© 2012 Elsevier Ltd.