Tuesday 24 October 2017

For completeness sake

Having brewed with home made malt, and had a go at chicha de muko, I needed to make sake to complete the set of ways in which booze can be made from a starchy substrate. Back when I was working at BRI we nearly got a project to make sake in the pilot brewery, but sadly the work fell through so it didn't happen.

I'd got the taste for giving it a go though, as the processes involved look fascinating. To someone used to normal brewing it all looked very complicated, but when I thought about it if you add malting to the brewing process it's just as involved.

As my local supermarket didn't sell sake rice I used risotto rice.

The first stage is to steam so rice and once it's cooled add fungal spores (Aspergillus oryzae) to it.

I wasn't sure what to look for but there did seem to be something happening.

 Here's a close up:

There was a smell similar to that of fermentation coming off the rice. After three days a definite colour change had become obvious too (the rice on the spoon is freshly cooked).

After three days the fungal rice or koji was mixed with freshly cooked rice and water and the yeast (a sake strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae) was pitched. 

It was at this point that it dawned on me how sake manages to get such a high alcohol content. It wasn't like fermenting wort, it was so thick it was more like fermenting the mash. Obvious when you think about it, but doing things is really the best way to learn. 

I left it fermenting at room temperature for two weeks. I was a little bit twitchy about this as I vaguely remembered from when I was looking at sake at work that it was fermented colder. I should have looked into this further really, as when I got back from holiday after two weeks my plans for an evening on the sake were thwarted. The fermentation smelt of acetone (nail varnish remover) and there was an unpleasant looking pellicle on the top.

I know my fellow fans of funny fermentation take great delight in posting pellicle pictures, but I'm afraid my faith is not that strong and most look ugly to me. I crudely strained out the rice...

...to get the NEIPA of sake or nigori. 

I did have a go at drinking it, as I figured there must be a lot of alcohol in it, but I soon gave up, as with the strong solvent smell it had I'm sure I would have got a bad head.

So my sake making was not entirely successful, but I think it has potential. And in the event of the zombie apocalypse it's certainly easier than malting grains, and there are possibilities for using a similar process with other starch sources. Though as, unlike with my home malting, I didn't actually make anything drinkable more research is necessary first.


  1. Interesting! Why did you wait three days before adding the yeast? Doesn't that just give infections three days to get established?

    1. I was just following the instructions, but I guess until the mould has become established there isn't any sugar for the yeast anyway.