Most more or less enlightened connoisseurs of alcoholic drinks know that Japanese sake is technically not a vodka drink but a rice pruno since it’s not made by distilling or fractionating. This drink is also called rice wine, although its composition is closer to a beer without hops, and its making technology is unique and as no real analogs. This article goes over this technology of making rice wine at home. Selecting a certain yeast strain allows making sake which is very close to the original drink. The organoleptic properties of this sake are hard to describe with words, but it’s something worth trying yourself.
It’s better to use sticky rice because this Asian variety of rice has a very pronounced aroma and flavor. During the cooking process, the rice absorbs a large amount of water which serves as the base for the final product. So there’s no need to add more water later on.
Real sake is made from koji, a filamentous fungus, which can process starch in rice into fermentable sugar. In home conditions, koji can be replaced with more accessible wine yeast. Sugar is added to the must in order to increase wine’s potency (wine yeast don’t process starch into fermentable sugar, thus the low alcohol content). Using distiller’s and baker’s yeast will yield rice wash with an ethanol flavor and not sake.
- Rice – 1 kilo
- Wine yeast or koji – according to the instructions per 6-8 liters of wort
- Water to cook rice
- Sugar – up to 200 grams per 1 liter of wine to fortification and sweetening (optional)
Rice Wine Recipe
Wash the rice a few times until the water gets clear. Then pour it with boiling water (the water should be above rice by at least 2-3 cm), cover the cooking pot and leave it for 60 minutes.
Strain the rice through a sieve and steam it. To do this, fill about half of an average-sized cooking pot with water, bring it to a boil, then put the rice in a metal sieve. Put the sieve above the cooking pot containing boiling water, cover it (but not tightly), and put medium heat. Leave it for 25 minutes. You can do this in a few batches or use a steam cooker.
Try the rice. Its grains should be mild and just ever so slightly sweet. Cook for another 5-10 minutes till cooked. Lay out the rice in an even layer on a clear dry baking sheet (or any other even surface). Wait till the grains cool down to room temperature. Add activated yeast evenly across the whole surface and stir.
Put the rice in a glass, plastic or enamel fermentation container. Cover it with an airlock, move it to a dark place and leave at 20-28 °C for 30 days. The must will gradually break down.
The must on the 2nd and 12th day
Place the solid part of the must into another container. Strain the liquid part through cheesecloth. Squeeze the rice dry using thick fabric or cheesecloth. You won’t need the grains after this step.
In fact, you’ll have two parts of young sake. The filtered liquid part is considered higher-quality. It’s traditionally served cold in wine glasses. Pressed rice wine is usually drunk warmed up from small ceramic cups. When making sake at home you can mix both liquids or continue working with them in separate containers.
Taste the strained rice wine. In case it’s too weak (mostly when using wine yeast) add sugar (up to 120 grams per liter), and stir. 1% of fermented sugar increases the potency by approximately 0.6%.
No sugar is added to real sake
Decant the wine into the fermentation container. Install the airlock. Move it to a dark place and leave for 5-15 days at room temperature (depending on the amount of added sugar) till fermentation is over. Fermented wine is lighter, the airlock doesn’t emit gas, and there’s a layer of sediment at the bottom.
Decant the drink through a thin straw into another container. It’s preferred to clarify the wine with bentonite to remove rice residue. Taste the rice wine and add sugar to your taste (optional). Bottle and seal.
Pasteurization of Sake
This is a necessary step when making sake using koji, since you need to get rid of the fungus. Wine yeast rice wine doesn’t require pasteurization—just put it away for storing.
Place a wooden grating or folded towel at the bottom of a large cooking pot. Put a jar with water and a thermometer in the center of the cooking pot. Put the bottles with wine in a cooking pot. Heat the water to 62-63 °C (it’s important to prevent the temperature from going over 70 °C, otherwise the wine will have an overcooked flavor).
The duration of pasteurization depends on the volume of bottles:
- 0.5 liters – 20 minutes
- 0.7 liters – 25 minutes
- 1 liter – 30 minutes
Take the cooking pot off the stove and wait till it cools down to 35-40 °C. Get the bottles out of the water and wipe the dry, then check if they are hermetically sealed by turning them over.
Move the cooled bottles to a cellar for aging (3-12 °C). Leave them for at least 2-3 months (it’s preferred to leave them for 5-6 months) to improve the taste.
Prior to serving the homemade rice wine decant it. It can be drunk cold from wine glasses or warmed to 15-30 °C.
After 3 months of aging. The color depends on the type of yeast and rice variety. It becomes lighter over time.
Homemade sake can be stored for up to 3 years. The potency of rice wine made at home is 6-18% depending on the type of yeast, the amount of sugar added, and fermentation time.