God help me, I'm brewing a batch of sake. In my ever-increasing portfolio of fermentable experiments this one is new to me, and I've been putting it off and dreading its eventuality for quite a while. Well, the time is now.
You see, sake should be easy. It's rice wine. Cook some rice, add some water and yeast, what's the big problem? One word: Enzymes.
The magic of beer is possible because barley can be malted, the process of which makes starch-converting amylase enzymes available to the brewer. The starches in the barley kernel are broken down into simpler sugars, which the yeast may then feast upon. Rice, however, cannot be malted. The starches remain trapped, unavailable to yeast unless something else unlocks them. In a barley mash, you can add rice as an adjunct and the mash's enzymes will happily convert up to a fairly large amount of it. But what if you want to do an all-rice wine? You'll need another source of enzymes.
This is where mold comes in. Not just any mold, a very specific mold: Aspergillus orzae. When inoculated into rice, A. orzae forms a product known as koji, without which many Japanese foods wouldn't exist, including: miso, sake, mirin, rice vinegar, and more. The mold produces the same sorts of enzymes that malted barley does: alpha amylase, glucoamylase, etc., and will work to slowly break down the rice starches into something the yeast can handle.
In the U.S. you can get dried koji spores in small packets and culture it up yourself, or if you're really lucky you can find Cold Mountain Koji in a store near you, saving you weeks of painstaking koji inoculation and incubation.
I was really lucky. Once again Uwajimaya comes through! FYI: it's in the chill case, by the miso, about $7/20 oz. tub. Here it is on the left, looking like dried, oddly shaped rice.
The next problem is rice. Not just any old rice will do. First, you need Japanese short-grain rice. Next, that rice must be polished down to remove the outer oils and proteins. The higher the polish, the higher the quality of the sake and the more expensive it will be. Fortunately, Oregon's own SakeOne (makers of Momokawa) and F.H. Steinbart have teamed up to sell SakeOne's California-grown, Oregon-polished sake rice to homebrewers. The rice is 60% polished, which will make for a Junmai Ginjo sake. Here it is after soaking, but before steaming.
Incidentally, SakeOne is just a few miles from the vineyard where my Pinot Gris and Riesling originated. Small world.
Finally Yeast. The Japanese government maintains a bank of various sake yeasts. Fortunately, Wyeast got their hands on the most popular #9 strain and sell it in an Activator pack. With koji, rice and yeast we're ready to begin.
Sake is a complicated process, and I'm not going to do a detailed step-by-step when there are several other better guides out there. The basic idea is:
- Make the moto, essentially a yeast starter.
- The Moromi, the main rice addition. This has three steps, the Hatsuzoe, Nakazoe, and Tomezoe, each increasing the amount of rice and koji sequentially so the yeast can grow and handle it.
- There will then be a primary ferment and subsequent stabilizing steps.
- Ideally, around May I'll have somewhere near 3 gallons of sake.
- 10lbs sake rice
- 40 oz. koji (two containers of Cold Mountain)
- sake yeast
- yeast nutrient
- epsom salts
- Morton Salt Substitute (Potassium chloride. It will provide needed potassium to the yeast, lactic bacteria and koji)
In Kitchen Confidential Anthony Bourdain talks about how his pastry chef Andy would call him up, hungover, and shout "Feed the Bitch! Feed the Bitch or she'll die!" The Bitch was their sourdough starter, and it needed regular replenishing of flour and water. Sake is like that, very needy.
Feed the Bitch!
So the first step was to start the Moto, which is basically a big yeast starter. Koji, yeast nutrient, and epsom salts were soaked overnight in some water, while some rice was also soaked. I have elected for a more traditional moto in which a lactic acid ferment will coincide with the yeast propgation, which will give the sake the necessary tartness and pH protection it will need to taste good and stave off infection. The more modern shubo starter may be used, in which you add lactic acid at the get go to insure that it does not get infected. I actually have plenty of lactic acid around. Guess I'm just a glutton for punishment.
Anyway, here I already screwed up and soaked the rice for way too long. The highly polished sake rice needs much less soaking than simple short grain rice (which you can also use if you can't find sake rice). Oh well. Didn't seem to hurt it. Maybe it will ruin it. Who knows, this is my first sake.
Next day the rice is steamed. Yes steamed. You have to steam the rice so it doesn't get all waterlogged. Nothing about sake is easy. I'm using my bamboo steamer and some cheesecloth. Not sure what I'll do when I have to steam 5lbs of rice in one day... Several batches no doubt. And several hours of work.
So I combined the koji, water and rice and set to do its thing for two days, stirring morning and evening. It prefers 70 degrees, but our house is set to 65 right now, so I put it near one of the heating registers. Tonight the yeast goes in and it goes downstairs into the lagering fridge at 50 degrees. Then back out of the fridge for a couple days, then back in the fridge for a few more. Feed the Bitch.
I'll post periodically as it goes along. Next big step is the Moromi, which is about two weeks away.
UPDATE 2/16/10: The Moromi.
UPDATE 3/12/10: Pressing Matters
UPDATE 3/22/10: Kasu
UPDATE 4/20/10: Racking
UPDATE 5/28/10: Filtering and Bottling - It's done!