The Sake Project continues.
The sake has been pressed! After three weeks of waiting I popped the lid off the bucket and got my first taste of it. Gravity reading of 1.000. We are go for pressing!
Of course I had to find a way to press several gallons of rice and proto-sake. Fortunately, I scored a couple nylon paint straining bags from Home Depot for about $3. They're designed to fit a 5 gallon bucket, and come with elastic bands around the opening. My only advice on this is once you get the bag secured around a sanitized bucket, secure it somehow. I started scooping the rice into it and it slipped off and made a bit of a mess. So just have someone hold it, or use some clamps or something while you scoop the rice into the bag.
Next you have to get the sake out of the mix somehow. My first thought was to let gravity do the work. You could just hang it and let it drip I suppose, like you would cheese. But it would take a long time and I'd worry about oxidization.
A word on contamination while we're at it. By my guess, the sake is at least 18% alcohol! So that in itself is protecting it. But on top of that it will be pasteurized, twice, before drinking. So I wasn't too worried about manic cleanliness. Just sterilize things and wash your hands really well. You're going to need them.
Next I tried using two cookie sheets to form a sort of press, using my body weight to push down on it. It worked fairly well, but was ultimately a bit ungainly. If I had a fruit press, or a proper cheese press, those options might work well. Ultimately what worked best was just holding it over the bucket and using one hand to squeeze handfulls of the bag. Eventually I managed to wring just over three gallons out of it.
I racked the sake from the bucket into a couple bottles, with the rest going into a carboy. These bottles would be nigori, or cloudy sake, bottled with the lees. This will make it a bit sweeter and more aromatic, and a bit chalky like rice milk.
Technically I guess it's Junmai Ginjo Nigori Genshu Sake.
- Junmai: only water, koji, and rice. Not pressed with grain neutral spirits.
- Ginjo: the rice was polished down to 60% of its original size.
- Nigori: it's bottled cloudy, with lees from the pressing in the bottle.
- Genshu: I didn't do a yodan addition of water to dilute the sake down to the normal commercial strength of 14-16%. It's full bore, 18% rocket fuel!
This is proving to be a lot of work for not a lot of sake.
The bottles of nigorizake went straight into a pot of water on the stove. I slowly raised the water temp until the sake was 140 degrees, then capped it. This should pasteurize it and make its shelf life much longer. As I mentioned earlier, the sanitization isn't crazy important. But the lactic bacteria in the sake will still, somehow, find a way to make the sake sour. Also acetobacters could get in and vinegarize it. Finally, sake oxidizes really, really quickly. Heating it drives off the dissolved co2 and helps purge oxygen from the bottles.
In the straining bag I was left with a problem. Or, perhaps, an opportunity. There was nearly three pounds of sake lees, or kasu, in the bag. You could just throw it out, but why waste such a potentially delicious gift? Kasu is one of my favorite cooking ingredients. It's like miso, but with a very perfumey-sake aroma, and a bit of alcohol. The Japanese use it in place of miso in many dishes, including soups and pickles. However, the best use by far is as a marinade for grilled fish: kasuzuke. So I scooped it out, pressed it into a pyrex dish, and popped it in the freezer to help it set up.
So how is the nigorizake?
Pretty delicious! No real off flavors, though there is a bit of a lactic bite to it. Maybe next time I'll do the sokujo style starter, where you use straight lactic acid instead of bacteria in order to get a more controlled level of acidity. But iIt smells like sake, all the right ethereal perfuminess is there. It is strong though. I decided not to do a yodan dilution this time just to see what it's like at full volume. Next time I'll turn it down a bit, maybe 16%. Note: a side effect of dilution is that you make more total sake as well, so your effort goes farther. It's also pretty young, I think it will be better as it mellows in a couple months.
Can't wait to try the filtered version!