Brewing beer takes a lot of time and effort cleaning, temperature control, filtering, aerating, and many more things make it an all day adventure. Sake is technically a beer, because rice is a grain, but instead of malting and kilning the grain like most beers, it uses the enzymatic processes of Koji to convert starches to sugars. Because of this, the yeast is never exposed to an excessive amount of free sugars, and the alcohol content rises slowly. That is why many beers need to use special yeasts and yeast nutrients to produce strong beers, but Sake is commonly 15-20% ABV. The yeast has more time to adjust to high alcohol content. If you’ve read my post My Favorite Mold, you will know that I like Koji a lot. I enjoy mixing it with many different things and tasting the interesting flavor combinations it produces.
Let’s brew some sake!
The easy way
If you want to try making Sake really easily, the solution is to buy a ball like this on Amazon. Inside, it contains the enzymatic mold, as well as yeast to brew your own. All you have to do is powder it, then add it to the cooked rice, and let it ferment. It takes a few weeks, because unlike beer, it needs time to not only convert starch to sugar, it needs to also convert sugar to alcohol, and make a lot more alcohol than beer. You can try it as the fermentation progresses, after a day it might taste like sweet rice, but it will gradually become more and more alcoholic. It is fun to try it as it ferments, and I greatly recommend it, provide you can maintain good sanitation practices when you open it.
What rice to use?
You can use any kind of rice, and it will produce a different flavor Try not to use fortified rice, because the minerals can often lead to quite off flavors. In Japan, the most prized sake, 大吟醸, Daiginjou, is made with rice polished to half or less of its original weight. This polishing removes proteins, and leaves mostly just starches. There are many kinds of sake with many kinds of rice however, so I recommend trying out different styles.
So, the steps to making simple sake are as follows:
1: Give the rice a quick rinse, you don’t want to lose all the starches, but you want to be sure to remove any stray dirt.
2: Steam the rice if possible for about 40 minutes. Boiling will work, but not as well. It will add too much water which will cause the rice to stick together more, lowering attenuation. The end result will likely be sweeter and much less alcoholic.
3: Take the rice out and let it cool, covered.
4: once the rice is just warm to the touch, layer it in your fermentation vessel at about half an inch to an inch followed by your brewing powder. (you can use the same vessel as beer or a jar, basin or anything you can think of, just release the CO2 pressure often if you don’t have an airlock)
5: Finally, leave it in a cool area of your house. You can try it every few days and see how the flavor adjusts. Full attenuation should occur after about 3 weeks to a month.
From here, you can enjoy it hot or cold, bottle it and give it to your friends or keep it all to yourself.
Save the leftover solids!
When you strain out the liquid from the lees, don’t be too quick to throw away the solid matter. That stuff is incredibly healthy, and is a very common ingredient in Japanese soups. In addition, it is often put into face masks and soaps as well. If you mix it with hot water and make a paste, it can be a quick homemade brightening facemask. Don’t leave it on too long though, because kojic acid can irritate skin if overexposed. 10 minutes and your skin will be quite rejuvenated.
Many countries have slightly different ways how to brew sake, and the flavors are quite different from each other. Currently, I’m living in Vietnam, which has a vibrant homebrewing scene for rice wine. It is amazing how many flavors can be discovered through slightly different brewing techniques.
How was your sake? Let me know in the comments!