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How to Make Sake at Home


Bob Taylor Taylor-MadeAK Brewing

A Taylor-Made Guide


Table of Contents

Page 3: Introduction Page 4: About Sake and How Sake is Made Page 7: The Recipe Page 8: Ingredients Page 10: Equipment Page 11: Preparing the Rice Page 13: The Actual Process Page 22: Secondary and Packaging Page 25: Drinking Sake and Conclusion

© Copyright Bob Taylor 2007.


How to Make Sake at Home - a Taylor-Made Guide


If you Google for "homebrew sake" or "make sake at home," you'll get a few hits. But they're all really the same poorly written guide. I've been homebrewing my own sake for years, and I'm really dissatisfied with the quality of the online homebrewing sake guides, whose process turns out a product that is vastly inferior to commercially made sakes and even my own home-made product.

I'm hoping to change that. This guide will teach you how to make authentic seishu () - refined Japanese sake - at home, using the kan-zukuri () [cold-brewed] method. While I'm at it, I hope to educate you, at least a little bit, about different varieties of sake and maybe even different methods for making it. I don't intend for this to be the be-all end-all guide to sake, but I do hope it will generate some interest in making it at home from ingredients and equipment that are quite readily available. This is a long guide, with many pages, but hopefully taking the time to write all those pages will shed some light on a process that appears to be very complicated on the surface, but really is quite simple at its heart. This guide is aimed at moderately experienced homebrewers. If you're not a homebrewer, some terms will be a little unfamiliar to you. A quick Google search will usually define those words for you, but feel free to post questions in the form of comments on this guide. I'll be more than happy to answer them for you. Finally, to give credit where it's due, everything I know about making sake, I learned from the book Sake (U.S.A) by Fred Eckhardt. I don't want to duplicate his work in its entirety here, but the recipe and method presented here are entirely his work. I heartily recommend adding his book to your library if you find this guide to be at all helpful.


About Sake

Because of its alcohol content and the lack of hops and carbonation, most people refer to sake as "rice wine." This is a contradiction in terms. Wines are always made from fruit, specifically the grape. Beer always contains hops, some kind of grain, and usually some amount of carbonation. Sake fits into neither one of these categories, though if you twisted my arm I'd tell you that it would go in the beer category. However, the category that sake really fits in is jiu - the Chinese word that is the root for all the myriads of other Asians call their fermented alcoholic rice beverages.

Making Sake

Years ago my first attempt didn't turn out very well. It was very sour, low in alcohol, and just not very drinkable. Like many of the guides Google turns up, I tried to shortcut the process by adding all the ingredients at once and fermenting at room temperature. My excuse, such as it was, for that was I didn't have the right equipment for making sake, specifically a steamer and a means for controlling the fermentation temperature. Before you can make sake, you must learn the basic concepts of how sake is made. Let's start with the ingredients. Like beer, sake has only 4 ingredients: Water ()

Rice ()

Kome-koji ()

Yeast ()

Notice the absence of malt there? You can't malt rice for sake making the same way you malt barley, so the rice doesn't contain any enzymes for converting starch to sugar like malted barley does. I'll reiterate: rice won't convert itself to sugar for the yeast to ferment. That's where komekoji (just koji for short) comes in. 4

Koji is rice that has had aspergillus oryzae (koji-kin) mold grown on it. This special mold has an interesting property: it secretes enzymes that convert starch to sugar. If you add it to a soupy mash of rice, water, and yeast, the result is fermentation. All that remains is technique. If I were to list the steps for making sake right away, most of you would close this window and never come back. At first glance it looks really complex. Hell, my first attempt at sake turned out horrible largely because I didn't understand the rules of sake making and tried to oversimplify the process. I guess years of homebrewing experience really does make for a greater understanding of certain concepts, because when I got back to making sake after having given up for a few years, the whole convoluted and tradition-steeped process that the Japanese use to make sake makes sense to me. Eventually, I worked it out to simple rules that must be followed to make sake:

Make a yeast starter. Like any other beer (especially lagers), a big healthy yeast starter is essential for a good sake fermentation. When making sake, this step is called the Moto or "seed mash" and the purpose is to get the yeast to reproduce to a good number and start actively fermenting before you add more rice and koji for the main fermentation. Rice must be added in doubling additions. If you add everything at once, your yeast will just give up before you reach the desired alcohol content of sake. Worse: if your yeast gives up, other bugs can take over and ruin your sake. So, add rice in additions that double your fermentation volume each time. Using this method, your homebrewed sake can reach 18%-20% ABV. Koji is always added the night before you add your rice addition. Basically, you add koji to your fermenting sake at the same time that you put your rice in the fridge to soak for steaming. The purpose is to hydrate the koji so that it will give up its enzymes to the solution, ready to be soaked up by the steamed rice being added the next day. Control your fermentation temperature. The closer you get to 50ºF, the more dormant lactobacillus becomes. This allows the yeast to take control of the fermentation and prevents your sake from becoming too sour. Some acidity is necessary, but too much will render it undrinkable. 5

Apart from the above rules, there is the method of adding fermentables gradually to the fermentation. Sake brewing is separated into the following stages:

Moto () - The "seed" or "yeast" mash. This is a yeast starter, fellow homebrewers. Moromi () - The main fermentation, which has three koji and rice additions: Hatsuzoe () - First addition. Nakazoe () - Middle addition. Tomezoe () - Final addition. Yodan () - Stabilizing addition.

Got all that? Ok, recipe time!


The Recipe

You can probably tell by now, making sake is more about process than ingredients. Even still, you have to know what you need for ingredients before you can start, right? Here's my basic recipe for about three gallons of sake, which can be halved or doubled (or tripled lol).

10.00 lbs 40.00 oz 2.00 gal 0.75 tsp 1.25 tsp

Short grain rice Cold Mountain Rice Koji Cold water Brewer's yeast nutrient Morton Salt Substitute (potassium chloride - KCl)

1.00 pinch Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate - MgSO4) 1.00 pack WYeast Sake Yeast

You might notice a few "funky" ingredients on this list. Those being the salts. Unlike wort made from barley, rice doesn't contain the minerals and amino acids that yeast needs for a healthy fermentation. So we're supplying those nutrients with the water. Brewer's yeast nutrient for nitrogen, Epsom salts for magnesium, and Moton Salt Substitute for potassium and chloride. Please note: do not use a different brand of salt substitute without reading the ingredients list. Most other brands use calcium chloride, which normally isn't a bad thing to add to a batch of beer, but it's not going to supply the potassium that we need here. These additions aren't absolutely necessary (in fact, the current batch of sake detailed in this thread was made without them), but they help your yeast get a "leg up" on all other microbes and in the long run will help to produce the most alcoholic sake possible. Also conspicuous in its absence is the citric acid, vintner's acid blend, or citrus juice that most of the sake recipes found on the internet call for. Please don't do this to your sake. Commercial sake brewers don't do it, and neither should you. The stated purpose for this addition is "to protect the sake from infection by lowering the pH." This really isn't necessary because there is going to be a lactic ferment along with the main yeast ferment that will acidify the sake for you and, along with the dominant sake yeast, will help to keep all other microbial activity in check. Citric acid is also a powerful antioxidant, which hurts your yeast's reproductive cycle. In other words, adding citric acid to your sake is only going to make your sake more sour, it doesn't serve any other beneficial purpose.


Ingredients - Strange Names and Where to Buy Them

One by one, here are the ingredients listed in the above recipe and how to find them. Short Grain Rice - Here in the U.S.A. this variety is often called "pearl" or "California pearl." The brand I prefer for making sake (and sushi!) is Kokuho Rose Sushi Rice. It's not expensive, and readily available in grocery stores that cater to ethnic foods. I've even seen it at my local Fred Meyer (Kroger to you East Coasters). If you can't find it, you can use pretty much any short grain rice you can get your hands on. Cold Mountain Rice Koji - Without a doubt the most difficult product to find, simply because you don't know where to look! The first time I attempted sake, I sent my poor wife around to every Asian market in town looking for this item. She never did find it. I actually tripped over it at a large local ethnic store called New Sagaya. Really, any grocery store that caters to a wide range of ethnic interests (especially Japanese) will have this item - hey, if I can get it in Alaska, it's probably available where you live! Alternatively, your local homebrew supply store may stock koji-kin spores. This is more expensive, but you can make your own kome-koji with it and one pack'et makes enough for several batches of sake. Push comes to shove, you can always order it (scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page). Sake Yeast - While we're on the subject of homebrew supply stores, you're going to need some yeast. You're not going to find sake yeast in a grocery store, so hit the yellow pages and locate a homebrew supply store near you and see if they stock WYeast WY3134 Sake #9 yeast. If they don't stock it, and they're not willing to get it for you, you can always order it. If you just can't wait, white wine yeast will do just fine. Please don't use bread yeast, though. I know Asian homebrewers do it all the time, but believe me they wouldn't if homebrewing were legal there. Epsom Salt - We're out of the hard ingredients now. This is available at your local megamart, usually in the pharmaceuticals or first-aid department. I bet you probably have some under your bathroom sink or in the medicine cabinet to treat the occasional pulled muscle, even. Morton Salt Substitute - Grocery store. Morton is pretty ubiquitous, so you shouldn't have any reason to even consider a different brand of product. If for some reason you just can't find this


brand, read labels. If you can't find a salt substitute label that lists potassium chloride, just leave it out. You probably won't miss it. Water - Only mentioning this because all municipal water sources in our nation are chlorinated. Sake doesn't have the same issues with chlorophenols that beer does, but I still prefer to leave the chlorine out. Filter your water or buy distilled (it's cheap).



You only really need some very basic equipment for making sake. If you have a basic homebrewing or winemaking equipment kit, you're already most of the way there! Here's a short list: Fermenter - A five-gallon, food-grade plastic bucket with a tight-fitting lid that has been drilled for a fermentation airlock. Like this one, but the spigot is not necessary (you won't use it). A large steamer - Really the only specialized piece of equipment you need, a large steamer that can hold 3 to 5 pounds of rice would be very nice to have. You could cook rice with a rice cooker or in a pot...but really, sake rice needs to be steamed. Steamed rice doesn't get mushy and gluey like boiled rice does, and this is important for the koji to get hold of it. Large steamers sell for about $30 at your local Asian market, so it's not a huge investment. A racking cane and hose - Like beer, sake can be damaged by contact with oxygen, so siphoning is the rule when transferring it between vessels. This is available at your local homebrew supply store, if you don't already have one as part of your homebrewing/winemaking equipment. Airlocks and one-hole stoppers - Again, you want to protect your fermenting sake from the environment, and that's what these are for. If you bought a homebrewing kit, you have these already. Glass jugs of one-gallon capacity - Later in the process you're going to want to get the sake off of the rice lees, but it's not quite ready to drink yet. One-gallon glass jugs (like the ones good quality juices come in) will serve as perfect secondary fermenters or "bright tanks" in which your sake can finish fermenting, clear, and mature. A means to control fermentation temperature - Every homebrewer dreams of having a chest freezer with a temperature controller on it dedicated to his beer. I have one, and I love it. But fulfilling this requirement doesn't necessarily mean you need a piece of equipment for the job. If you have a basement, garage, or any part of your home that stays in the 50ºF-55ºF temperature range for at least part of the year, that will do nicely to keep your sake fermenting in the right temperature range for each step of the process.


Preparing the Rice

Rice must be cooked before it can be used for making sake. The reason, familiar to all-grain homebrewers, has to do with gelatinizing the starches in the rice kerels. Gelatinizing alters the structure of the starch granules in such a way as to make them more readily soluble. Bottom line: you have to cook the rice before the koji enzymes can do anything else with it. The preferred method of preparing rice for sake is steaming. This is because steamed rice, while fully gelatinized, doesn't have the tendency to go mushy and gooey like normally cooked rice does. This means that clumps are a lot easier to break up, and your hands will thank you for that when it comes time to mix the rice into the moromi. If you don't have a steamer, can't concoct one, and couldn't find one to buy, then cooking in a rice cooker or even simmering in a pot on the stove is acceptable - so don't let not being able to steam your rice discourage you! You prepare rice for steaming like this: Wash the rice thoroughly in running cold water to remove 11

all starch powder. Then, cover the rice in 2-3 inches of very cold water, and stash in your fridge for about 18 hours. Properly soaked rice is slightly less than crunchy and nibbles easily (if it's squishy, you soaked too long. if very crunchy, it hasn't soaked long enough). After soaking, drain off the cold water in a colander for at least half an hour. Then place the rice in your steamer (with plenty of water in the bottom half) and steam for 45 minutes. Steamed rice is tender to the tooth and translucent - not white, like simmered rice. I realize that this seems like a small subject to devote an entire page to, but it stands by itself because it deals with the base ingredient of our recipe.


Making Sake, Part II - The Actual Process

Ok, step-by-step, here's how to make a batch of sake.

Moto ()

(Total time: 14 days)

Prepare 2.5 cups of cold water by adding 0.75 tsp yeast nutrient and a pinch of Epsom salt and stirring until completely dissolved. Then add a half cup of koji and stir it into the water. Put this into the fridge at the same time as you put your rice to soak for steaming. Prepare 1.5 cups of rice as described above (wash, soak, steam).


After steaming, add the hot rice to the cold koji and water mixture in your fermenter (there's no reason to use an intermediate vessel here) to produce a starting temperature of about 74ºF. Mix well with a sanitized spoon, and put this fermenter somewhere where it will remain at this temperature for the next couple days. Stir twice a day with a sanitized spoon. In the first few hours the rice will soak up almost all of the liquid (see image), but after 24 hours the koji enzymes will cause the rice to liquify again. After two days, cool to 50-60ºF and add the yeast on top. Don't stir the yeast in yet! Cover and let stand for 12 hours. The cool temperature at this stage is very important (sake yeast is a lager yeast) remember the sour flavors I mentioned earlier? Move the fermenter to your basement or into a temperature-controlled refrigerator. After 12 hours have gone by, allow the temperature to come back up to 68-72ºF and stir the yeast into the moto mixture with a sanitized spoon. Stir twice a day for 3 days, then once a day for three more days. 14

The basic ferment of the moto is now finished, and the temperature should again be lowered to 50ºF. Allow the moto to rest for 5 more days. Now you are ready for moromi fermentation!


Moromi () and Odori ()

(Total time: 26 days) Fred Ekhardt wrote in his book: The moromi ferment will be a three-stage buildup over a four day period. The slow buildup is necessary to ensure a maximum alcohol content. The stages, or additions, are called first addition (hatsuzoe), middle addition (nakazoe), and tomezoe or last addition. Each consists of a further portion of koji, steamed rice, and water. These sequential additions each double the volume of the mash until the full ferment can take place over about three weeks.

Hatsuzoe (): (Day 1 - 2)

Day -1: Eighteen hours before you expect to add this addition, wash and soak 2.5 cups of rice in cold water. At the same time, add a cup of koji to the moto, which has now been working for 2 weeks. Stir the koji in with a sanitized spoon.


Day 1: After soaking, prepare the rice with the usual steaming method. While the rice is steaming, dissolve 1.25 teaspoon of Morton salt substitute (or potassium chloride) in a little warm water, then add more cold water to make a total of 2.75 cups. Stash this in the fridge to chill.

Day 1: When finished steaming, add the rice to the above cold water to cool the rice down. When the rice gets down below 85ºF, add it to the moto. Day 1 ­ 2: Long-time beer makers hate this step. Wash your hands and arms really really well, then use them (yes, your hands) to mix the steamed rice into your moto, making sure to break up all the clumps. This should take you about 30 minutes or so. When you're done, put the lid and airlock back on and keep the temperature at around 70ºF. Stir with a sanitized spoon at 2 hour intervals for the next 12 hours, then twice a day for the next 2 days. You have now tripled the volume of your original moto.


Nakazoe (): (Day 2 - 3)

Day 2: 18 hours early, wash and soak 6 cups of rice. At the same time, add 1.5 cups of koji to the fermenter. Stir it in with a sanitized spoon.

Day 3: Steam your rice as usual. Then add the hot steamed rice to 8.75 cups of cold water. Mix with your clean hands, then add the whole thing to the fermenter. Again, mix with your hands for 30 minutes, being sure to break up all the clumps. Day 3: Put the lid back on, keep the temperature at about 70ºF, and stir it up after 12 hours. By now your volume is about 2 gallons.


Tomezoe (): (Day 3 - 4)

Day 3: After you stir the mash up in the last step, add the remaining koji and stir it in. At the same time, wash and soak the remaining 5 pounds of rice.

Day 4: The next day, 24 hours after starting the nakazoe step, steam your rice. Add the hot steamed rice to 1 gallon + 1 cup of cold water, mix with your clean hands, and add the whole lot to the moromi. Again, mix it up with your hands, making sure to break up all the clumps. This will again double your volume to around 4 gallons. Leave this alone at 70ºF over night. At this time you can observe odori - the dancing ferment. The bubbling action of happy yeasties is a familiar sight to anyone who has made their own beer before. From the fifth day on, you want to maintain a cooler temperature for the fermentation. After the room-temperature overnight period between days 4 and 5, you should chill it down to as close to 50ºF as you can get, or at least keep it between 50ºF and 60ºF. Believe me, you want to ferment this cool. A warm sake fermentation can lead to some funky flavors, so try to avoid it. This is why the 19

Japanese traditionally only made sake during the cold winter months, which is why this is called the kan-zukuri () or "cold-brewed" method. Stir at 12 hour intervals through the 6th day, then leave it alone for the next three weeks. Somewhere between day 19 and day 21, the fermentation should pretty much be over (a hydrometer would read at 1.000 or less at this point). Note that, since there's no way to determine an original gravity for sake, it's not really possible to calculate ABV for the product. You'll know it's alcoholic when you taste it, though! Ok, on to the next step.

Yodan ()

(Total time: a few hours to a day) The "stabilizing addition." I only mention this for sake of completeness, as I always skip it because I prefer the driest and most alcoholic sake possible. There are two ways you can go here: you can add water to decrease the alcoholic strength of the product, or you can add rice and koji to sweeten the sake. Here are the calculated water additions: 0 ounces - If you add no water in this step, the sake should finish with an alcohol content above 18.5% ABV. This is Genshu () sake.

30 ounces - This will yield about 16% ABV, which we could call "ordinary" sake. 68 ounces - The alcohol level will decrease to about 14% ABV. This is pretty weak for a non-carbonated product, and generally not recommended. 20 ounces - Add two gallons of water and you'll be down to about 12% ABV, which is the usual strength of fruit-flavored sakes. 178 ounces - This will yield 10-11% ABV, which is low enough to allow you to bottle condition the sake for a carbonated product.


Why would you do this? Got me, I'm just parroting the math. I've never done any of these water additions.

Last, but certainly not least, adding 2 cups (uncooked amount) of steamed rice and 1/2 cup of koji to the sake at this point will add more sugar than the yeast can ferment, which will sweeten the sake. This amount of rice and koji will produce a very sweet sake called mirin, which is used in Japanese cooking to make such things as teriyaki sauce. Basically, the Japanese tend to use mirin in place of sugar wherever a sweetener is needed. If you prefer your sake to be sweeter, but not so sweet as mirin, you can decrease the amount of rice added in this step.


Secondary and Maturation (Bright Tank)

(Total time: 14 days) If you made no additions at yodan, then you should rack the sake at this time. Clean and sanitize three one-gallon jugs, your racking cane and hose, and one-hole stoppers for the jugs. Then just siphon the sake off of the rice lees. Then take the lees and put them in a colander lined with cheesecloth, wrap it up, and squeeze as much liquid out as you can (if you have a small fruit press, this works even better). Use this to top up your jugs to the neck (don't fill them completely full).

Affix stoppers and airlocks to these jugs, then keep them right at that 50ºF temperature for the next couple weeks. This will allow any residual fermentation to finish up and will allow the rice solids and yeast to settle out, leaving your sake relatively clear. At this point you could just put a tight lid on your jugs of sake and store it in your fridge for anywhere from 2 weeks to a month before you drink it all. I seriously don't recommend this 22

because any longer and lactobacillus can take over and turn your sake very, very sour. The next step is pasteurization. Pasteurizing sake is pretty easy. Just put your sake into a pot of water on your stove, stick a thermometer in through the mouth of the bottle, and heat until the sake reaches 140ºF. Then take it out, put a lid on it, and allow it to cool. The resulting pasteurized sake can be stored for up to 6 months before drinking or repackaging.

Packaging for Consumption

Right now you have a couple options: After aging, you can leave the sake as-is (or mix the sediment into solution and rack to smaller bottles, followed by re-pasteurizing and sealing) and enjoy it as nigorizake () - cloudy sake that is meant to have the sediment mixed into the sake before drinking. This kind of sake is sweeter and has more body than filtered sake, and is very delicious in and of itself. Or you can allow the jugs to become well-settled and carefully rack the cleared sake off of the sediment into smaller bottles, re-pasteurize, and seal. This is muroka () or "unfiltered" sake seishu that hasn't been further clarified by filtration. It's still a little hazy, and that's generally considered to be unacceptable for [em]seishu[/em]. To render this sake brilliant, I suggest fining with bentonite - a type of clay used by vintners to clarify their white wines. The ratio of bentonite used is generally 1/2 teaspoon per gallon being fined - for our recipe, that works out to 1.5 teaspoons bentonite. Start with a cup (8 fluid ounces) of really hot water. Stirring continuously with a whisk, slowly sprinkle the bentonite powder into the water. Once you have it all in a smooth slurry, gently stir it into your sake in its secondary fermenter (split it up if you're using multiple jugs as secondaries). In about 3 days it will completely settle out and you can rack the brilliant sake off of the sediment for bottling and pasteurizing. Sake is ready to drink any time after it's bottled, but a modest aging period of about two months tends to improve the flavor. Traditionally, sake is aged at the brewery for six months in this stage of 23

production, before filtering, bottling, and re-pasteurizing the product for sale. But I'm not going to suggest anything so extreme here, aging for 6 weeks to two months will be sufficient to get rid of the "green sake" flavors. Thus we come to the eighth and final page of my guide: drinking your sake!


Drinking Sake

A lot of people I talk to are a bit in the dark about how to drink sake. I will now attempt to light the way for you! Homebrewed sake can be drank warm or chilled, and is great either way. Drinking chilled sake: Chilled sake is traditionally drunk from 6 oz square cedar (or cypress) cups called masu. Usually a bit of salt is sprinkled on the rim, symbolizing food (sakana). Traditionally, sake is never consumed without food, so putting salt on your cup is just a way to allow you to drink sake by itself! The cedar masu add its own complementing flavor to the sake, but can overwhelm more delicately flavored ginjo sakes; for which a laquerware alternative is available. Drinking warm sake: Restaurants use a "sake machine" through which hot sake is dispensed from 18 liter boxes for consumption by their American patrons. Warm sake is good, but these machines heat the sake up to almost boiling and keep it there for far too long as it dispenses. This is far too hot to drink, and actually ruins the sake - changing the flavor and boiling the alcohol out of it. The same thing often happens if you try to warm sake up in the microwave if you aren't careful, actually. The proper warm temperature to drink sake at is just barely warmer than your blood: 110ºF-120ºF. To warm it up, put a small pan of water on the stove and bring to a boil. While' you're waiting, pour some sake into the jug of your favorite sake set, and put a thermometer in it. When the water boils, remove from the stove and put your sake jug in the hot water. Gently heat until the thermometer reads the appropriate temperature, then immediately serve.


Well, I hope you found this guide to be much more helpful than "those other guides" that Google turns up. As stated at the beginning, I'm always happy to answer questions - so if you have them, either use the contact button above to e-mail it to me or post it as a comment here and I will do my very best to answer it for you in as clear a manner as possible.

Happy Brewing! Bob Taylor, Taylor-MadeAK Brewing



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