Is Doburoku Sake?

Often when you search around on-line, looking for a recipe for sake you find recipes for Doburoku (濁酒). No, they don’t say they are for doburoku.

Often when you search around on-line, looking for a recipe for sake you find recipes for Doburoku (濁酒). No, they don’t say they are for doburoku. But if you brew them you don’t end up with what we in the U.S. think of as sake; I would venture to say the world. In Japan, “sake” is a much broader term. It is really for any type of alcoholic drink. However, outside of Japan, sake is the same thing to us as Nihonshu (日本酒) and Seishu (清酒). Even, in Japan, if a westerner asks for sake, it is mostly assumed he is not asking for just any alcohol.

Doburoku is kind of a farm house or home brew style of sake. It is, well, rustic and unrefined. This is the point Fred is making at the top of his recipe when he explains “refined.” If you are interested in making the beverage we think of when we say sake, the one in the store or at the restaurant, then you don’t want doburoku. It will never live up to your expectations. However, it does have its place. The fact that it is unrefined also means it is easy or easier to make than its more refined cousin.

Doburoku is sweeter than sake with a lower percentage of alcohol. Both of these characteristics are from the method used for the ferment. The method does not give the yeast the conditions it needs to convert more of the sugars to alcohol and CO2. The yeast simply shuts down before it gets the job done. The more refined processes used to make sake are designed specifically to extend the conditions that are more favorable for yeast. This allows the yeast to work for a longer period and to dry out the sake while producing more alcohol.

Both sugar and alcohol are toxic to yeast if their concentrations are too high. Too much of one, the other, or both will prevent the yeast from completing its task. In the case of doburoku, it is the sugar that wins, killing off the yeast before it finishes. By placing all of the koji, rice and yeast in at the same time, the koji converts the starches to sugar pretty fast while the yeast are multiplying. As the oxygen runs out, the yeast completes their growth phase. This happens before enough yeast can be produced to handle the massive sugar buildup. As the yeast start to convert the sugar to alcohol they are in a constant state of stress, from the high sugar concentration, that steadily saps their strength until they can work no more.

The process of making sake is careful to slow the additions that produce the sugar and to stir regularly.  Stirring does two things, it mixes the ingredients as you would expect but it also introduces more oxygen. More oxygen means we will have more yeast growth. Slow the sugar production and the environment is less toxic to the yeast and the yeast can keep up with the amount of sugar being added. Under these circumstances, the yeast will eventually convert almost all of the sugar to alcohol. With sake, it is the brewer who needs to decide when to stop the ferment so the desired dryness or sweetness is reached.

Is doburoku sake? Is Pluto a planet? Both these questions can legitimately be answered with a yes or a no; it is all in your definitions. Now that doburoku is becoming more popular and kura are producing it commercially I believe we will lean more to yes.

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10 thoughts on “Is Doburoku Sake?”

  1. Hey Will,

    Love the website. I’m just starting to explore everything Koji can do. Have you considered adding recipes for things like doburoku or amazake? I would love to see information about simpler ferments that I can try before jumping into sake brewing.

  2. Great article. I’m somewhat experienced with beer brewing and interested in trying this as a first step toward sake. Does anyone here have any idea what the alcohol content is likely to end up at? I have read that it is common because of Japanese home brew laws but those limit alcohol to 1%. Are we talking somewhere north of kombucha and somewhere south of a double IPA?
    I imagine it is difficult to establish an original gravity since sugar is being created all along the process.

    1. Hey Jon,

      Of course, it depends on the water, rice and koji ratios. Five to eight percent is common. Add more water and the ABV will be lower.


  3. I am ready to try to brew another sake. The past 3 have been sour.I have a new Doburoku culture from Fermentap. My rice is a 40% milled I received as a gift from a sake brewer in Japan. I do not want to ruin this batch. Help to whoever has the time to contact me…and has experience in brewing sake.

    1. Are you trying to make sake or doburoku? What process are you using? That is, what are the steps you are following up to and through the fermentation?

  4. Will, as you know I just returned from Japan where I was working as a kurabito this season. I have an interesting story about doboroku that I want to pass along.

    I was befriended by the owner of the largest liquor store in Kyushu that featured sake, but also everything else. Todoroki-san was very fond to pull a bottle of doboroku that I wanted to pass along.

    There are jizake breweries committed to brewing doboroku, though they are rare. Todoroki-san wanted to tell me that this sake is important to brew today because it curates a special part of sake brewing history. It made Todoroki-san nostalgic, and after trying the sake, I admit that I found it delicious.

    Part of the glory of nihonshu is the breadth of the category and I hope jizake breweries stay committed to brewing sakes not because they are popular, but because they are significant!

  5. You forgot sour, Will. Doburoku recipes generally omit any kind of advice about low fermentation temperatures that are important for suppressing the activity of souring bacteria, so the final product tends to go sour very quickly.

    When asked, I usually describe doburoku as being equivalent to the rotgut Blue Ribbon Malt homebrews of 100 years ago in our country. =) Like those Prohibition-style homebrews, doburoku owes its origin to the fact that homebrewing was – and remains today – illegal in Japan.

    Come to think of it, that probably goes a long way toward explaining all the hits in my web site’s back-end lol!

    1. Hey Bob,

      Yes, I missed the issues from lack of temperature control and pasteurization. Thanks for bringing these up and keeping me honest.

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