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Sake, the delicate Japanese alcoholic beverage, is said to have originated in the Nara period (710–794 AD). And though it’s often referred to as rice wine, sake is produced using a grain-based brewing process more like that of beer. Surprisingly, sake is easy to make, requires only four ingredients, and can be made using basic beer-brewing equipment in about 12 to 15 days. Fermentation specialist Alastair Bland walks us through the eight steps on the pages of MAKE Volume 33.

From his intro:

Brewing sake requires rice, water, yeast, and, finally, one more essential component: a mold native to East Asia called Aspergillus oryzae. We have this critter to thank for black bean sauce, soy sauce, miso, and other cultured food products of Asia. A. oryzae releases an enzyme that breaks down complex carbohydrates into simple sugar. Since sugar is what yeast turns into ethanol, the first step in making sake is to convert steamed rice into a sticky, sweet porridge.

Purists may wish to start from scratch by buying spores of the A. oryzae mold and sprinkling it over a batch of steamed rice. Here, the mold blooms and does its magic: the grain turns as sweet as candy. The rice is now called malt-rice, or koji, and can be dried or frozen and stored for months until needed for brewing.

Most sake homebrewers opt to purchase dried, premade koji ready to use. A favored product is that of Cold Mountain, which sells 20oz plastic containers full of dried rice inoculated with A. oryzae.

You’ll also need yeast, and many beer and wine yeasts do just fine. In advanced sake brewing, the water and its particular mineral content are a matter of concern, but beginners can use clean tap water.

Finally, there’s the rice. Brown rice is commonly advised against, since the outer layers of each unhusked kernel contain proteins and fats that can, by some opinions, produce off-flavors. Commercial brewers use specially bred sake rice varieties, but these are expensive. Fortunately, table rice can make very respectable sake.

The magic moment of brewing arrives when the lid of the bucket is removed. Here, where 2 weeks before was a slurry of rice, fungi, and warm water, is now a naturally transformed beverage. If all went well, the aromas should be beautiful — stone fruits and guava and flower petals — and to think that they all came from polished white pearls of rice can be astounding. To see firsthand that sake can easily be produced in a bucket in one’s kitchen is just as thrilling.

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Read Alastair’s full sake tutorial and try your hand at making your own.

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MAKE Volume 33: Software for Makers

In our special Codebox section you’ll learn about software of interest to makers, including circuit board design, 3D CAD and printing, microcontrollers, and programming for kids. And you’ll meet fascinating makers, like the maniacs behind the popular Power Wheels Racing events at Maker Faire. You’ll get 22 great DIY projects like the Optical Tremolo guitar effect, “Panjolele” cake-pan ukelele, Wii Nunchuk Mouse, CNC joinery tricks, treat-dispensing cat scratching post, brewing sake, and more.

Buy or subscribe today!

Goli Mohammadi

I’m a word nerd who loves to geek out on how emerging technology affects the lexicon. When not fawning over perfect word choices, I can be found on the nearest mountain, looking for untouched powder fields and ideal alpine lakes.

I was an editor for the first 40 volumes of MAKE. The maker movement provides me with endless inspiration, and I love shining light on the incredible makers in our community. Covering art is my passion — after all, art is the first thing most of us ever made.

Contact me at snowgoli (at) gmail (dot) com.


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