Often called rice wine, sake is an alcoholic drink originating from Japan.
Most people associate this with the more famous sake bomb concoction. However, mixing this quality Japanese alcohol with beer doesn’t do the drink any justice at all!
This rich Japanese liquor is best enjoyed with its own flavor. Historically, sake is brewed and stored in Japanese homes. Its fermentation process is more similar to malted beverages.
Let’s discuss how to create sake at the comfort of your home!
How to Make Sake
Like other alcoholic beverages, the basic alcohol brewing formula is followed: fermentation of sugar and yeast produces alcohol and carbon dioxide.
Sake is made by fermenting sugar coming from rice starches. When combined with a yeast starter, this will transform the rice starch to sugar during fermentation.
What You Need
Here’s a list of the ingredients needed to make sake:
- 2 gal. of cold water: should be clean, good-tasting, and chlorine-free
- 10 lbs of white rice: milledshort-grain rice (preferably sushi rice product that’s grown in California)
- 40 oz. of koji kin: koji is needed for the conversion of rice starch to sugar
- 1 pack sake yeast: breaks down sugar for the fermentation process
- 0.75 tsp of yeast nutrient (optional)
- 1 pinch Epsom Salt (optional)
- 1.25 tsp of Morton Salt Substitute (optional)
For the yeast to interact with the sugar from rice, a small portion of rice will be combined with koji spores. The koji kin is a type of mold called aspergillus oryzae, known to provide amylase enzymes. (You can learn more about koji here.)
This particular mold will convert the starch into sugar that will easily interact with yeast. Koji can be difficult to find, but you can easily buy it in Japanese or Asian grocery stores.
It’s highly recommended that you use Wyeast WY3134 Sake #9 Yeast. However, you can use regular beer-making yeast if you don’t have access to sake yeast. White wine yeast works well too.
Adding yeast nutrients, Epsom salt, and salt substitute are optional. You can make sake without them. Although, doing so will slow the fermentation down and will give your sake a different taste.
A very important thing to consider when making sake is the fermentation temperature of its storage. Traditionally, sake is brewed at home during the cold winter months in Japan.
If you live in a cold winter climate, you can store it at room temperature. Otherwise, it’s recommended that you store your sake in a cold fridge. Find a space in your home where sunlight will not get to it.
You will also need the following equipment:
- Homebrewing Kit: racking cane, vinyl tubing, airlocks, one-hole stoppers, plastic bucket fermenter.
- Steamer: bamboo steamers lined with cheesecloth
- Gallon Glass Jugs or Jars (at least 4): to be used for secondary fermentation and as clarifying vessels
- Fruit Press (optional): to be used to press the sake from the rice later on. If you don’t have it, you can use your hands.
Brewing your own sake might look like a very complicated and intimidating process, but it’s actually not. Even though it takes quite a bit of patience, making sake is fairly easy to do.
Sake fermentation is divided into three major steps: moto, moromi, and yodan. These steps are to be done in a duration of six weeks for a basic amount.
Before you start, make sure that all of your equipment is thoroughly cleaned and sanitized. This is very important because small forms of contamination on any equipment you use will affect yeast production during fermentation.
This will greatly affect the quality of your alcohol.
#1 Preparing Your Sake Rice
The very first and very important step in brewing sake is to cook rice. Before fermenting the rice, it needs to be cooked until the starch turns into a gelatin-like texture.
You will need a large amount of cooked rice, so it is recommended that you cook it by steaming.
- Wash the short-grain rice thoroughly in cold water until it’s no longer cloudy.
- Put the washed rice in a large bowl and add water until it’s three inches above the rice.
- Place the bowl inside a refrigerator and let it soak from 8-12 hours or overnight.
- After soaking, drain the rice and place it in a steamer with cheesecloth lining.
- Cover and steam for 45 minutes. Add water to the steamer if needed.
For this step, we will do the traditional yamahai moto technique. Here, we will prepare the yeast. We will need koji, yeast, and more rice in this procedure.
Moto will produce lactobacillus bacteria to acidify the mixture. You can also add citric acid. Having a low pH prevents the fermenting sake from spoilage.
- Pour 2.5 cups of cold water into a container. Add 0.75 tsp of yeast and a pinch of Epsom salt. Stir them together until the yeast is dissolved.
- Add a half-cup of koji, then cover the container and store it in the refrigerator overnight.
- Rinse 1.5 cups of rice and soak in water. Water must be 2 to 3 inches high. Place in the fridge beside the koji mixture overnight as well. On the next day, drain and steam the rice in a bamboo steamer lined with cheesecloth.
- After steaming, put the rice in a clean fermenter along with the chilled koji mix. Using your clean hands, mix the ingredients. Make sure there are no rice clumps.
- Store the koji rice mix in a cool temperature of 70ºF / 21°C. Stir the mix twice a day for a span of two days. Watch the koji rice liquify over the next 48 hours.
- After two days, cool the rice and koji mixture to 50ºF / 10°C for 12 hours. Then put it in 70ºF / 21°C again. This will kickstart the fermentation. You can add citric acid if you want to make sure there won’t be any wild yeast production.
- For three days, stir the mixture twice a day. After that, stir it once a day for the next three days.
- Moto fermentation should be complete after nine days. Lower the temperature to 50ºF / 10°C and let it rest for five days.
#3 Moromi Mash
After the moto rests for five days, the next step is moromi.
Moromi is the primary fermentation that will occur in the next four days. This step is divided into three to ensure a complete fermentation process.
Do not add all the rice and koji all at once. These will be added gradually and in batches. This way, the yeast can fully do its job.
The first addition of koji, water, and rice.
- Rinse 2.5 cups of rice and soak it in water for twelve hours. Steam the rice and rinse.
- While waiting for the cooked rice, mix 1 cup of koji into the previously made moto.
- Get 1.25 tsp of Morton Salt Substitute and add a bit of warm water, enough for it to dissolve. Add enough cold water to make 2.75 cups of the mixture. Chill this in the refrigerator until the rice addition is done.
- Once the steamed rice is ready, mix the previously made water mixture in it. Use your hands to break the forming rice clumps.
- When the rice cools down to 85ºF / 29°C, mix this in with the moto.
- The mash should now cool down to 70–74ºF / 21–23°C. Keep it at room temperature.
- Stir the mash every 2 hours for the next 12 hours, then twice a day for the next 36 hours.
The second addition of koji, water, and rice.
- After you start hatsuzoe, rinse and soak 6 cups of rice for steaming. Then, add 1.5 cups of koji into the moromi mash and stir.
- On the following day, steam the rice. Then, add 8.75 cups of cold water. Mix it well and make sure there are no clumps.
- Once it cools down, add the rice addition to the mash. Let it all rest at room temperature for twelve hours.
The third addition of koji, water, and rice
- While letting the mash rest, rinse and soak the remaining rice. On the next day, drain and steam it.
- Mix the steamed rice with 1 gallon and 1 cup of cold water. Again, make sure there are no clumps.
- Add it all to the mash, then let it rest overnight.
- Move the container to a place that can maintain the temperature to 50ºF / 10°C. Leave and let it ferment for the next three weeks.
This is where we separate the nigorizake (cloudy sake) from the rice.
As the end of three weeks come, observe the specific gravity. The gravity must drop below 1,000 before you separate the sake from the rice lees (kasu).
- Siphon the cloudy nigorizake into a clean gallon glass jug until there’s no liquid anymore.
- If it clogs, pour it into a nylon straining bag.
- Use either your hands or a fruit press to squeeze out the sake.
#5 Secondary, Clarifying, Maturing
You should have around three gallons of nigorizake. The alcohol content would be approximately 18-22%. You can add more water to dilute the alcohol content.
- For the secondary fermenters, keep them at 50°F / 10°C. Secure it with stoppers and airlocks to finish fermenting. Again, make sure all of your equipment is clean.
- After a couple of weeks, cloudy rice particles will settle at the bottom. Once this happens, you can siphon the alcohol to a clean container.
The drink will appear to be pale yellow. But we need a clear-colored rice wine. To achieve this, some sake brewers use activated charcoal filters.
But for homebrewing, you can use bentonite with a ratio of half a teaspoon per gallon. This ingredient will make the rice wine clear.
- Slowly whisk 1.5 teaspoons of bentonite in 8 ounces of hot water until you get a smooth mixture.
- Divide the bentonite mixture evenly into your containers and gently shake.
- After three days, the bentonite will have your sake looking clear.
During the fermentation process, the concoction had an acidic pH level to keep it from spoilage. If you added citric acid, the sake would have a sour flavor profile to it. It might even have hints of fruity flavors.
To stabilize this, the drink must be pasteurized.
- Place the jar of sake in a large pot for a water bath. Fill the bigger pot with lukewarm water up to the shoulder of the jug.
- Put a thermometer to monitor the water temperature as you heat it. Remove the jar once it reaches 140ºF / 60°C. Cap it tightly.
- Let it cool before putting it in a refrigerator.
Things to Remember
It’s important to constantly keep the drink away from sunlight as you bulk age it for six more months.
After aging it, you can start siphoning it to smaller containers. Make sure that the containers are thoroughly cleaned and sanitized.
You can also put a room thermometer in the storage place of your sake. It’s important to keep the temperature cold, or else it will taste vastly different from what is expected.
Having a prolonged exposure to heat and sunlight will lead to spoilage and leave a bitter taste.
This drink is best stored sealed with a vacuum top to decrease oxidation. After opening a bottle, it is best consumed within two to three hours. If stored in a refrigerator, you must consume it within two days.
It’s still drinkable after a few weeks, although it does lose its best taste as days go by. Once it is exposed, it starts to oxidize, thus affecting the taste immediately.
Do note that the history of this rice wine is very rich and there are many different variations. The use of moto, moromi, and yodan is one of the primary methods used in producing sake.
Want to take it a step further and dive deep into the culture? Similar to how particular the drink was made, certain etiquettes are observed in both serving and consuming the drink.
- Sake is usually a seasonal winter drink. It can be served chilled, at room temperature, or hot. It’s usually served in a ceramic flask placed inside a warm water bath to keep it warm.
- Glasses are usually small in size. It’s small so that the drink will be consumed quickly while it’s warm.
- Never pour your own drink! It’s considered rude in Japanese etiquette. If you are with other people, you must wait ’til someone pours you a drink. In return, you will be the one to fill the others’ glasses as well.
- There are many different serving sets for specific occasions like weddings, religious rituals, ceremonies, etc.
- In some Shinto shrines, sake is stored in giant wooden casks. Some of these are served to gods as offerings. Some are opened with mallets during festivals as a celebratory ritual.
- These days, it is used in different alcoholic concoctions, one of the most popular ones being the sake bombs, wherein it’s mixed with beer.
Making your own sake product requires a lot of patience. It might look grueling going through all of those steps, but it can be very rewarding in the end.
The more work you put in, the more satisfying the result will be.
Feel free to add honey, fruit flavors, or anything of the sort for a more personalized taste. You can also pack it as a gift and use it for cooking various dishes.
Now you have your own version of the famous liquor from Japan, right in your home!
For more questions or inquiries regarding how sake is made, please do not hesitate to contact us.
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