Brewing Sake for Beginners

HomeBrewTalk.com - Beer, Wine, Mead, & Cider Brewing Discussion Community.

Help Support Homebrew Talk:


Hello everyone! Sake is a delicious drink that is drenched in history, strict tradition and touted as having a process that is riddled with complicated steps that is hard to follow. This makes good traditional Sake making a hard brew hobby to get into. I want to help you dive into the process and give you a simple recipe/steps that will make a fine Sake and start you on a path to a fun way of brewing that will impress your peers and friends.
There are a couple things I highly recommend to have prior to starting this. You can go without but you will have better results with these:
  1. A kitchen scale that can measure in grams. There are 3 steps of additions that need to double each time and if you know your ingredients weight in grams then it makes life much easier.
  2. Wide mouth glass jars. I use pickle jars from the supermarket. You can get 1 gallon or half gallon thick glass jars for pretty cheap. To clean them I use oxiclean free and that works out really well.
  3. cheese cloth or what is better called butter muslin. This sits over the mouth of your jar and with the lid tight on it, the seal is not perfect and allows the sake to vent CO2 while fermenting. This is also used to remove solids once fermentation is complete.
  4. good rice steamer. Rice can be boiled but steaming gives much better results.
  5. A way to cool down the sake. I just wait for cold weather and put my jars outside as done traditionally but a swamp cooler, fridge, or whatever that can reliably bring temps down to 40*F - 55*F is ideal.
You can make sake with other brew equipment but I like to use the above. Now for the recipe and a simplified set of steps.
1 gallon sake recipe:
1 1/3 cup Kome-Koji (cold mountain koji is a brand found often by the miso in oriental markets or bought online)
5 cups Rice (I often use calrose rice but sweet short grain highly polished rice is preferred)
8 cups water (good spring water high in minerals or distilled water with 1/8th tsp Epsom salt and 1/8 tsp Morton's salt substitute)
1/8th tsp DAP or other yeast nutrient
Yeast (Wyeast Sake #9 is a favorite or Lalvin K1v-1116 makes a fine sake)
The ratio of kome-koji, rice, and water are traditionally at 25:100:160. If you have the kitchen scale you can steam your rice, weigh it and adjust the koji and water to meet the ratio. Otherwise the above is close enough to measure easily and come up with a fine sake.
The steps!
Step 1 Preparation
If you buy cold mountain koji it is ready to be used right off the bat. Many brew shops sell Koji spores and you can make your own. Just steam your koji rice and follow directions in the kit for making the koji. All measurements above are dry rice measurements for making the koji. But cold mountain koji is measured to the same volume even though it is already cooked for simplicity purposes.
All rice should be soaked in ice cold water overnight for a minimum of 8 hours but no more than 12 in the fridge and then steamed until the rice is firm but easy to chew through. So not crunchy at all.
On a sterilized clean pan spread out your koji and divide into 4 parts. Try and make one part the smallest and the 2nd, 3rd, & 4th each doubling in size each time. If weighing out in grams just multiply the total weight by the following to give you a target weight for all four additions:
6.666%
13.332%
26.664%
53.328%

Step 2 Moto (Rice mash)

Put the smallest addition in your jar and the rest go into their own ziplock bags and placed in a freezer. Try and remove as much air as possible from each bag.
Do the same for the rice.
Water additions will be split into
1/2 cup
1 1/4 cup
2 cup
4 1/4 cup
Add the first addition to your jar now along with your yeast nutrients. Place your cheese cloth over the top of the jar and tighten the lid

After several hours the rice should soak up most of the water and look like such
No yeast is added yet. We want the enzymes from the Kome-koji to start to break down the rice. This will sit at room temp for 2 days. You stir the rice twice daily.

After a couple days the rice is now very mushy with pools of liquid glucose and sucrose floating around
Step 3 Moromi and Odori (Fermentation and rice additions)
Next either add your pre-smacked smack pack of Wyeast sake #9 or rehydrated k1v-1116. Now we want to cool the jar Down bellow 60*F to prevent bacterial infection from getting too bad before the yeast takes over. This is just for overnight at a minimum of 12 hours but no more that 18 hours.

Quick look of rice mash just after adding liquid yeast
Now the yeast colony is ready to rapidly grow so bring the jar back to room temp for 3 days stirring twice daily.
Add your second addition of frozen kome-koji, rice, and water. Put your jar back outside or wherever to bring below 55*F and wait 5 days. No more messing with or stirring.

Quick look after adding second addition
Bring the jar in overnight bringing up to room temp. No more than 12 hours. Then add your 3rd addition of frozen kome-koji, rice, and water. Put your jar back outside or wherever to bring below 55*F and wait 5 days. Still no more

Quick look after adding 3rd addition
Do the same as above one last time. This time all your additions are done and you are about 16 days into the sake brew. After the last addition you let this sit for another 2 weeks giving you about 30 days total brew time.

After 30 days the Sake should look like such
After 30 days take some clean cheese cloth and strain all the now fermented rice into a new clean jar. Press the solids dry to get most of your liquid out.

The sake lees I save to either use for starting meads and wines or there
are many recipes for fish and stuffed peppers that use Sake lees. The
lees keeps forever in the fridge. I have used 11 month old lees kept
close to freezing about 35F that worked/tasted great still
You can now add a finning agent like bentonite to help clear the sake but I usually just throw the jar in the fridge and after 2-3 days you should have a crystal clear layer of sake to siphon from. This should yield a couple 750ml wine bottles easy.

Quick look at Sake after being pressed
This sake will be dry and close to 20% ABV give or take about 2% ABV. If you want it sweeter then siphon off the clear sake. Next stabilize with Camden and sorbate and after 12 to 24 hours add 1/4 cup of kome-koji and 1/2 cup of steamed rice. Place this back into the cold below 55*F and after about 3 days give it a taste. If you want it sweeter leave it longer up to 10 days. It may require finning again but usually it is clear enough to siphon into bottles from there.
The Sake is now ready to drink. This Sake does not gain too much from aging so is fine to be consumed early. It may be served warmed to about 105*F or slightly chilled. Works well both ways.

This is some finished Sake I had served for some friends that was steeped in some Mahara ja Chai Oolong tea. Oh so nice!
There is still a lot more to Sake to know and many ways to fine tune your product. I hope this will get you hooked and ready to research more but to be honest I often fall upon the above because it really is some nice sake that my friends and family have enjoyed and I hope yours do too.
 
Alright fine! I'll go make some sake in the upcoming weeks. :) Like I don't have enough stuff fermenting around my house already. Great article though, I plan to use this as my guide during my first sake making experience. I can already tell you that I will be flavoring mine...I am thinking about lemongrass sake.
 
Sweet article. Tried making sake (doburoku) back in college, but it just turned out kind of "meh". This recipe sounds like it might be better though, can't wait to try it.
 
At third and fourth additions, do you do an initial stir at the addition time or just pour on top.
Also do you bring the frozen kome-koji and rice to room temp before adding?
Thanks for the write-up,
Ry
 
Ryoko yes I do stir in the additions slightly but not a lot. The Koma-koji does not need to be brought to room temp. I mix it in frozen and have great results.
Thank you all for the comments.
 
This is an incredible how-to. I'm tempted to try it now. I've never had Sake with tea though. That sounds quite interesting.
 
So do you have to boil and cool the water that is to be used in the sake? I'm guessing the 'cold-crash' and the ABV once the yeast get to it are staving off the possibility of infection.
 
Keen to get this going! Only thing I didn't understand was the third to last para about making it sweeter (I tend to prefer cloudier, sweeter sake): "If you want it sweeter then siphon off the clear sake. Next stabilize with Camden and sorbate and after 12 to 24 hours add 1/4 cup of kome-koji and 1/2 cup of steamed rice. Place this back into the cold below 55*F and after about 3 days give it a taste. If you want it sweeter leave it longer up to 10 days."
Leaving it longer after stabilizing makes it sweeter?
 
Top