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BigDaveK

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I can’t resist – “Seishu!– Watashi wa sore o mezashite ikimasu!”

This will be fun!

I’m one of those here who considered the idea of making sake intriguing and put it on my list for “someday”. Yeah, it seemed crazy, complicated, and definitely outside my comfort zone as a country wine maker. But taking a step back to summarize the process it becomes very simple -

Grow mold that converts starch to sugar, add water, rice, and yeast.

Not much different from our wine making, right? It’s OK to be intimidated by Sake directions and recipes. Most of us were intimidated and apprehensive by our first wine and we survived. In truth, yes, there IS some work involved and there are details. A lot of details. And many of the details have details. Crazy but incredibly interesting!

This will be an adventure for all of us since I’m starting this post before the sake is completely finished. Fanfare, revelry and a parade….or crash and burn? We’ll see. Much more involved than making wine but a lot of fun, I learned a lot, and I’ll do it again. To those thinking about making sake, perhaps this will give you a nudge to start…or maybe scare you away forever.

Warning #1 - This will be a longer post than my other “Going for it!” wines. I decided to make as true a sake as possible, did a lot of research, and that’s what I’m sharing. If you’re expecting “mix ingredients, pitch yeast, rack, age” forget it, that’s definitely not sake. Stop reading now!

Warning #2 – There’s a lot of information here, too much for some, too little for others, but really it’s just the basics. I’ll try to include some of the “why” things are done and maybe remove some of the mystery. And as a bonus we’ll even learn some Japanese! If we’re making sake we may as well learn the jargon!

Warning #3 – This post is not a recipe. I included the major details to hopefully give a general idea of the effort involved. Gosh yes, there’s more details than I included. Seems to be no end to them.

Let’s start with some jargon – sake is “brewed” and the brewery is called the “sakagura”. The brewery owner is called the “kuramoto” and a brewery worker is called a “kurabito”, both of which I find incredibly coincidental since I go by “BigDaveK”. Was I destined to make sake?😁

And to be precise, I will (hopefully) be making “Seishu”, literally “clear alcohol”, a Japanese wine made from rice, water, and yeast. “Nihonshu”, literally “Japanese clear alcohol”, is also Japanese wine made from rice, water, and yeast but it’s only made in Japan and only using domestic Japanese rice. (Similar to wine’s “appellation”) What we call “sake” in the West translates to the generic “alcoholic drink” in Japan. For simplicity I’ll use the Western “sake”.

Some major differences with wine making - The calendar is very important, something we generally almost ignore. And temperature – multiple temperatures – very important. Most home made sake is done in the winter because of the low temperatures that are needed (50F or below). But early on higher temperatures (90F-ish) are needed. It all may seem intimidating at first, and can be, and sake makers usually say “You want easy? Make wine”.😆

This will be presented in multiple messages because I discovered there’s a character and photo limit to each post.
 
Some ingredient details

Water (mizu). The quality of the water is important. Crazy important! You don’t want ANY iron in the water. (Iron will affect color, flavor and aroma.) I have a deep well but I know folks around here with shallower wells that have rust stains on porcelain. I didn’t want to take a chance so I used distilled water. Distilled or reverse osmosis water are perfectly fine to use. Hard or soft water can be used but it affects the final product. Sake made with hard water is dry and crisp and called Otoko-zake (Men’s Sake). Sake made with soft water is smooth and silky and called Onna-zake (Women’s Sake). Next time I’ll try my well water for comparison.

Rice (hakumai). The starch in the rice is converted to glucose by a fungus. Simultaneously the yeast consume the glucose and produce ethanol. Yes, there actually are 2 fermentations at the same time and it’s called a “double parallel fermentation”. And since the product of one fermentation is used by the other it’s like a slow continuous step feeding and sake usually approaches 20% ABV. And, although it’s an oversimplification, almost any kind of rice can be used as long as it has the right starch. The rice should have a small amount of amylose and a large amount of amylopectin. Long grain, Jasmine, and Basmati are NOT recommended for sake. “Sticky rice” or sushi rice is a good choice and in the US the popular Calrose varieties “should” work. I used Kokuho Rose which is a favorite for home sake and sushi makers. (Geek alert – Kokuho Rose, KR55, is the original; Calrose rice is descended from it and according to Koda Farms, saying Kokuho Rose and Calrose are the same is like saying a thoroughbred race horse and a donkey are the same.)
And there’s also the issue of “polish”. Kokuho Rose is a table rice which, like most table rice, is polished to about 90%, meaning 10% is removed. Serious and commercial sake makers will use rice polished between 70% and 40%. The intention is to remove as much protein and fat as possible leaving just the starch.

20240223_140053.jpg

About cooking the rice. This will be done often, get used to it, and it must be steamed. A rice cooker produces a sticky mass ready for the table. A steamer maintains individual grains, which we want, hydrated enough for sake but not enough for the table. The steam also gelatinizes the starch making it easier for the fungus to use. In a nutshell, the rice is washed until the water is almost clear, soaked, then steamed for 45-60 minutes. When done it should be chewy but not crunchy. The rice is always cooled before using and the cooled temperature depends on when in the sake process it will be used. Rule Of Thumb for washing rice – if you can see individual grains of rice through a couple inches of water it’s “good enough”. For me that was 9 changes of water.

Yeast (kobo). Some online recipes suggest regular wine yeast but serious sake makers say “DON’T!” OK, I’ll take their word for it. There are a number of yeast strains used for sake but I think only two are available in the US. I’m using Wyeast 4134 (Geek alert - Sake#9, Kumamoto Kobo), my first exposure to liquid yeast!

20240302_154316.jpg

Let’s get started!
 
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Our first task is to make koji (seikiku)….

We begin with a Bench Test to find out how our rice will absorb water. After soaking, the rice should increase in weight by 25-35% How long to soak? 1 hour to 18 hours depending on the rice (age, dryness, polish ratio). And we don’t want to over soak because that will affect the fungus we’ll add. After soaking the rice is cooked by steaming (which will increase water about another 10%) for about an hour.

How important is timing the water absorption? A highly polished rice will absorb water faster and in Japan it’s not uncommon to time the soaking with a stopwatch.

My Bench Test Result – 2.5 hours gave me 32% moisture.

(Geek Alert – to calculate moisture absorption: The rice is always washed until the water is almost clear. Drain and weigh the rice, cover with water and place in fridge. After a determined amount of time, drain, weigh the rice again: %water uptake = ( ((final weight)/(starting weight)) - 1) * 100. Measuring in grams makes it super easy.)

Now that we know the absorption properties of our rice we can make rice koji – moldy rice, the most important part of the process! And this is where we need the heat. Wash, soak, and steam rice, spread on tray, let it cool to 85F-ish. Koji-kin is a mold that converts the starches to sugars. (Geek alert – aspergillus oryzae) It’s spread on the rice, mixed, and put somewhere warm for 30-48 hours. I found that my oven with the light on and door cracked about an inch will maintain temperatures a bit over 90F. At this point we want 90-95F and humid. (Humid for the first 24 hours.) It needs to be stirred every 10-12 hours and the temperature needs to be monitored – it generates heat and could possibly cook itself to death. For the first 24 hours I suggest having the temperature probe outside the rice to be certain the environment is warm. After 24 hours the koji kin starts to work like crazy and will generate heat so the probe definitely needs to be in the rice

20240226_111808.jpg

Minor goof – I realized afterwards I could have used my bread proofer. Doh!

(Geek Alert – Why the high temp? Koji-kin, like all of Mother Nature’s miniature factories, is amazing. It produces multiple enzymes. Higher temperature cultivation (>90F) emphasizes starch degrading enzymes (which we want) and lower temperature cultivation (<85F) emphasizes protein degrading enzymes.)

Be aware when making the rice koji – overcooked rice, bad; under cooked rice, bad; too humid, bad; not humid enough, bad; too hot, bad; too cool, bad; inoculating with too much koji, bad. This really is the most important step and really easy to screw up.

My koji – it’s important to have a temperature probe in the rice! If it creeps above 95F stir to lower the temperature. LEARN FROM ME, MY FIRST BATCH FAILED! I hit 103F a couple times and immediately took it out of the oven and stirred, but it was too late. The higher temperatures made the mold sporulate (produce spores) at 43 hours, even staining my cloth yellow. SECOND ATTEMPT WAS A SUCCESS! Watched the temperature, stirred more often, and never hit 100F. I harvested a white and fluffy koji at 41 hours. It needs to be cooled quickly to stop further development. I spread it on a cookie sheet and put it into the freezer for just a couple minutes then into a container and into the fridge. This will be added multiple times to the sake ferment and refrigerator storage works great.

Timing suggestion – I would start the koji making process so that the 32 hour mark is early in the morning. So many variables determine when it will be done, probably in the next 6-12 hours. Watch it carefully! You want white and fluffy. Sporulated koji (it turns yellow) is not good for sake but it CAN be used for dozens of other Japanese sauces and dishes.

20240302_071130.jpg 20240228_054000.jpg

BTW, I had to taste the moldy yeast. Chewy and sweet, nutty, what a surprise!

(Geek alert – aspergillus oryzae is incredibly important in Asian cuisine. Since we’re growing it on rice it’s called rice koji or kome koji. It can also be grown on barley, wheat, soybean, sweet potato and others! It depends on the use and without it there would be no sake, soy sauce, miso, mirin, rice vinegar and more! And BTW, it’s designated as the National Fungus of Japan.)

And now we really start the sake….
 
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Shubo – the yeast mash or starter, “Sake’s Mother”.

Like wine making, we begin with a starter but this will take 7 days and we’ll add nutrient, acid, some minerals including salt. (Salt!!??) Some recipes call for citric acid but many sake makers say this leads to an inferior product. OK. So for my 2 gallon batch I need –

2.5 cups iron free water

3/5 tsp yeast nutrient (4 gr)

Pinch Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) (.7gr)

1.25 tsp salt substitute (potassium chloride)

1 tsp Lactic acid 88% (3.8 ml) (More on this later.)

A half cup of this liquid is put into the fridge, the remainder is on the counter over night, covered. The liquid yeast is also removed from the fridge and left on the counter to warm. The next morning we soak the rice (1.6 cups/340 gr) and activate the yeast. The yeast activation may take 5 or more hours so that’s a great time to prepare the rice. (There's a small nutrient packet inside the pouch, feeds the yeast, pouch expands.)

20240303_154950.jpg

After steaming the rice is spread on a pan for just a few minutes to dry and cool. We don’t want to let it cool too much this way because it will also become too dry. That’s why we chilled a portion of the nutrient water. It gets poured over the rice, lowering the temperature quickly. The rice is added to the nutrient water, 4/5 cup (115 gr) of koji is added, and when the temperature is about 72F we add the yeast. This mixture (the shubo) needs to be around 72F for 7 days, stirring every 12 hours. I kept mine in the oven, light off and door closed. Over time what started as a thick porridge becomes thinner as the enzymes from the koji breaks down the rice.

(Geek Alert – this is interesting and important. There are two major methods of sake brewing – “kimoto” and “sokujo”. In the ancient, traditional kimoto method LAB grow in the yeast mash, producing lactic acid for protection from “bad” microorganisms . But there are “good” LAB and “bad” LAB. Around 1900 Sake brewers discovered they could increase their chance of success by skipping natural LAB by simply adding lactic acid. That is the sokujo method I’m using here. What scientists discovered (years later) is that the lactic acid changes the metabolism of the sake yeast – they produce less ethanol at first, they have a higher stress tolerance, and they didn’t die as quickly. There’s two-thirds fewer dead yeast cells when the shubo is done using lactic acid. Keep that in mind when a sake recipe calls for citric acid!)

Starter, 12 hours, thick and bubbly.
starter 12 hrs 20240304_101804.jpg

Starter, 24 hours, enzymes dissolving the rice.
starter 24 hours 20240305_093757.jpg

Starter, 24 hours, top view.
starter 24 hours 20240308_155018.jpg

After 7 days it’s time to begin the main ferment, the moromi, by adding increasing quantities of koji, water, and rice over multiple days. The night before the first addition we need to start lowering the temperature so I transferred my shubo to the basement where the temperature this time of year is about 60F.

Two points of interest – at 72F the yeast mash (shubo) was extremely active and looked like a slow boil, big bubbles! And the smell? A sweet bread, alcohol, with a hint of banana. The flavor? Very simple – acidic and slightly sweet.

Now we’re ready to build the main ferment. Adding everything at once would overwhelm the yeast, dilute the acid and alcohol, and the ferment would fail. This process, sandan shikomi, takes place over 4 days.
 
Day One - 1st addition – Hatzusoe

205 gr koji, 1.75 cup water, 570 gr rice, plus 1 cup water into the fridge the night before. The rice is made as before, allowed to cool and dry briefly, and the water from the fridge is added to cool it further. Rice is then added when below 70F.

First addition, thick mass.
1st addition 20240310_121936.jpg

Bubbling like crazy after a couple hours. So thick you can see pockets of gas slowly working their way up. Smell? Like a bakery that serves alcohol. Taste? Meh. pH is up to 3.6. This gets stirred every 12 hours.

First addition, 12 hours, thick, bubbles rise slowly.
1st addition 12 hrs 20240310_164503.jpg

First addition 24 hours, rice breaking down, bubbles moving more freely.
1st addition 24 hrs20240311_154942.jpg

At this point the ferment is approximately 25% of its final size.

Day Two – Odori – “Dancing Ferment”

Nothing added, a day of rest to allow the yeast to multiply. The ferment is crazy active. The mash is noticeably thinner, bubbles rising to the top easier. Yeast smell almost undetectable. Very fruity aroma! Taste still meh but not as much as yesterday. Hint of other flavors starting.
 
Day Three - 2nd addition – Nakazoe

320 gr koji, 6.75 cups water, 1360 gr rice, plus 2 cup water into the fridge the night before. Again, the rice is made as before, allowed to cool and dry briefly, and the water from the fridge is added to cool it further. Again, added when below 70F.

The ferment is now approximately 50% of it’s final size. At this point everything was transferred to a 5 gallon bucket and it’s just below my 2 gallon mark. Smells fruity!

2nd addition 12 hrs20240312_173313.jpg

Day Four - 3rd addition – Tomezoe

500 gr of koji, 14 cups water, 2270 gr rice, plus 2 cups water into the fridge. (Two cups went into the fridge because I had to steam in two batches.) Again, but for the last time, the rice is made as before, allowed to cool and dry briefly, and the water from the fridge is added to cool it further.

Third addition, 6 hours, thick and bubbly.
3rd addition 6 hrs 20240313_115038.jpg

Third addition, 12 hours, starting to thin, crazy bubbles!
3rd addition 12 hrs 20240313_153740.jpg

Building the ferment is now complete. Now we need even colder temperatures. With one of my small refrigerator’s thermostat turned all the way down I can maintain 46.2F. Crazy? Yup! For this portion of the ferment we actually want temperatures between 32-50F for the next 2 weeks.

20240313_185241.jpg

Twelve hours later was an unexpected surprise. The thick porridge has become watery, the temperature of the mash is 56F and it raised the temperature of the fridge to 51F. Time to play with the thermostat.

And that’s where I am now. For the next two weeks I’ll stir twice a day and try to control the temperature. And NO, we’re not done with the details OR the Japanese lesson!

Stay tuned!
 
@BigDaveK
Great post, Dave. I tried making Sake about 55 years ago and it was an abject debacle. I can see why, now, having seen your process. I am inspired to give it another try. Keep us up to date on your progress. Thanks for posting.
 
Wow- this is fascinating!! Did you compile information from multiple sources?. Or are you using a main source?
( I think you should publish The Gringo’s guide to making Sake’ - 😂 😉)
Will anxiously await further posts on your progress!!
(- Have you read the Noma Guide to Fermentation? Interesting processes of grain and other ( kind of scary!) fermentation.
Koji, Shoyu, Miso.. )
 
Good job!
My dS-I-L and Daughter make rice wine and Meade.
From Wiki

Certainly! Rice wine, also known as sake or Shaoxing wine, is a delightful beverage made from fermented rice. It’s not only used in cooking but also enjoyed as a sweet drink. Let’s explore how you can make your own rice wine at home:

Homemade Rice Wine Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups (400 g) of uncooked sticky rice (also known as “glutinous” rice)
  • 1 wine yeast ball (also called Qū or jiǔqū in Mandarin)

Instructions:

  1. Cooking the Rice:
    • Rinse 2 cups (400 g) of rice thoroughly until the water runs clear.
    • Soak the rice in hot water for about 8 hours.
    • After soaking, strain the rice to remove excess water.
    • Boil 2 cups (473 ml) of water in a steamer or pot.
    • Steam the rice in the steamer for approximately 30 minutes, ensuring it’s evenly cooked.
  2. Mixing with Yeast:
    • Once the rice has cooled down, crush 1 wine yeast ball into a fine powder.
    • Mix the yeast powder into the cooked rice.
    • Place the rice and yeast mixture into an airtight container.
  3. Fermentation:
    • Store the container at around 82ºF (28ºC) for 5 days.
    • During this time, the rice will ferment and transform into rice wine.
    • After the initial fermentation, let the rice wine continue to ferment for an additional 10-20 days.
    • You can taste it periodically to check its flavor and alcohol content.
  4. Enjoy:
    • Once the fermentation process is complete, your homemade rice wine is ready!
    • You can sip on it as a sweet drink or use it in your cooking.
Remember, patience is key when making rice wine. The longer you wait, the more flavorful and versatile your wine will be. 🍚🍶

For more detailed instructions and tips, you can also check out this wikiHow article or explore other variations of rice wine recipes. Cheers! 🥂

Also on you tube
 
Homemade Rice Wine Recipe
That's the simple recipe for rice wine, but it's not sake. All sake is rice wine, but not all rice wine is sake.

I may try the rice wine recipe just for fun, and I have intentions of making sake, at least once.
 
That's the simple recipe for rice wine, but it's not sake. All sake is rice wine, but not all rice wine is sake.

I may try the rice wine recipe just for fun, and I have intentions of making sake, at least once.
Yep. I keep asking them when will they making Sake. But they are into making fruit flavored rice wine. Quite good. proving once again that humans (and others) like BOOOOOOZE
 
No idea if I will ever try this, seems complicated, but commenting to follow this thread. Thanks for posting!
 
Wow- this is fascinating!! Did you compile information from multiple sources?. Or are you using a main source?
( I think you should publish The Gringo’s guide to making Sake’ - 😂 😉)
Will anxiously await further posts on your progress!!
(- Have you read the Noma Guide to Fermentation? Interesting processes of grain and other ( kind of scary!) fermentation.
Koji, Shoyu, Miso.. )
I did, and still am, doing a lot of reading. The recipe I chose I thought was the easiest to follow and most authentic. And crazy? I was even using Google Translate on Japanese sites!

And of course while reading I fell in other rabbit holes. Now I'm thinking about miso, soy sauce, mirin, and others.

And a bonus - the sake lees (sake kasu) are actually sold in Japanese grocery stores. There are cookbooks for the lees!
 
Good job!
My dS-I-L and Daughter make rice wine and Meade.
From Wiki

Certainly! Rice wine, also known as sake or Shaoxing wine, is a delightful beverage made from fermented rice. It’s not only used in cooking but also enjoyed as a sweet drink. Let’s explore how you can make your own rice wine at home:

Homemade Rice Wine Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups (400 g) of uncooked sticky rice (also known as “glutinous” rice)
  • 1 wine yeast ball (also called Qū or jiǔqū in Mandarin)

Instructions:

  1. Cooking the Rice:
    • Rinse 2 cups (400 g) of rice thoroughly until the water runs clear.
    • Soak the rice in hot water for about 8 hours.
    • After soaking, strain the rice to remove excess water.
    • Boil 2 cups (473 ml) of water in a steamer or pot.
    • Steam the rice in the steamer for approximately 30 minutes, ensuring it’s evenly cooked.
  2. Mixing with Yeast:
    • Once the rice has cooled down, crush 1 wine yeast ball into a fine powder.
    • Mix the yeast powder into the cooked rice.
    • Place the rice and yeast mixture into an airtight container.
  3. Fermentation:
    • Store the container at around 82ºF (28ºC) for 5 days.
    • During this time, the rice will ferment and transform into rice wine.
    • After the initial fermentation, let the rice wine continue to ferment for an additional 10-20 days.
    • You can taste it periodically to check its flavor and alcohol content.
  4. Enjoy:
    • Once the fermentation process is complete, your homemade rice wine is ready!
    • You can sip on it as a sweet drink or use it in your cooking.
Remember, patience is key when making rice wine. The longer you wait, the more flavorful and versatile your wine will be. 🍚🍶

For more detailed instructions and tips, you can also check out this wikiHow article or explore other variations of rice wine recipes. Cheers! 🥂

Also on you tube

I'm interested and curious about other rice wines now. Seems like every Asian country has their own version. The Chinese rice ball is cultivated on a wheat base and has mold, bacteria, and yeast. The Korean makgeolli is close to sake and their starter is called "nuruk".

Making rice wine of the world might become a sub-hobby!
😅
 

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