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Home Brew Sake

Video Series & Step by Step Instructions for Homebrew Sake

This quick start procedure with videos is meant to help you get started as quickly as possible. It’s a procedure you can use to make very good sake, now, without waiting to learn more. My hope is that, as you make your sake you will be pulled more and more into this unique drink and all its aspects, making the learning about the whys and what fors more exciting and magical.

This outline is specifically for use with rice milled to 60% of original (60% seimaibuai) and pre-made koji.

The big picture: The first task is to create the moto which is a yeast mash to grow up a strong population of yeast for the ferment. The moto lasts for one week in this procedure. Next comes the buildup from the moto to the moromi or the yeast mash to the main ferment. This buildup comes in a three stage addition process over four days. Following the buildup is the main ferment that lasts about 20 days. This is followed by pressing to separate the sake from the lees and a series of rackings. The rackings transfer clear sake from containers with sediment to containers without sediment. This allows the sake to become more and more clear and more sediment free with each racking. Finally, is the pasteurization and bottling to complete the process.  The total time from start to end is 88 days and is closely tied to temperature during the process.

There is a tremendous amount of repetition in this process. For example the same process used to create the moto is used for each of the three additions of the buildup. Racking is repeated several times and pasteurization is done twice. So while the following outline is long most of the work becomes comfortable and routine before you are done.

Day 1 – estimated task time 10 minutes:

The first thing we must do is prepare a few things; sake water, yeast and koji. This is often done, as suggested in the recipe, the night before the first rice steaming.

Do:

–          Take your yeast out of the refrigerator and leave on counter to warm (target temp:65F-75F)

–          Place your koji into the refrigerator if it is not already there (you don’t want it frozen).

–          Put together your water. Combine and stir well:

  • 2.5 cups soft water (distilled or reverse osmosis water will have no problems)
  • 1 teaspoon 88% lactic acid
  • 3/4th teaspoon yeast nutrient
  • Pinch of Epsom salts (Magnesium sulfate)
  • 1¼ teaspoon Morton’s Salt Substitute (Potassium chloride)

–          Put ½ cup of this water mixture in the refrigerator and cover

–          Put 2 cups (the rest) on the counter next to the yeast and cover

That’s it for the first bit of work.

Day 2 – estimated task time 3.5 hours, beginning Moto:

This section has four distinct phases: broken up by steeping, draining and steaming.

Do phase 1:

–          Smack your yeast pack if you have not already done so and are using Wyeast yeast (White labs yeast does not need to be smacked J)

–          Ready sanitizer

–          Prepare rice

  • 1.6 cups of rice
  • Wash the rice in cold water till water is mostly clear
  • Steep in cold water with 1” water over top of rice for 1 hour

Do phase 2:

–          Sanitize the Moto container

–          Begin preparing the moto by combining (target temp: 70F):

  • 2 cups of sake water prepared on day 1
  • Yeast

–          Drain rice and place in a colander to drain for an hour

Do phase 3:

–          Add 8/10th cup koji to water and yeast mixture

–          Prepare steamer with cheese cloth liner

–          Add drained rice to steamer

–          Steam rice for 1 hour

Do phase 4:

–          30 minute check of the steaming rice to be sure you don’t run out of water in the steamer

Do phase 5:

–          Cool rice after steaming – using ½ cup water prepare day 1 and placed in refrigerator

–          Combine and mix well (target temp:72F do not let it get to or above 90F):

  • Moto starter from phase 2 and 3: sake water, yeast, koji
  • Freshly steamed and cooled rice

–          Loosely cover with plastic wrap and place where it will not get too much light (target temp: 65F-75F)

Day 3-6 – estimated time 5 minutes

Do from moto begun till ready to start the buildup to the main ferment, Moromi

–          Stir well twice a day with a sanitized spoon

–          Target temp: 65F-72F

Day 7 – Day before starting the build up to Moromi – estimated time 5+ minutes

Do:

–          Stir the Moto

–          Begin lowering moto temperature, slowly, down to 60F

Day 8 in the evening – estimated time 10 minutes

The moto should now be at about 60F.

Do:

–          Mix with Moto:

  • 1.5 cups koji
  • 1.5 cups water

–          Place 1.25 cups water into the refrigerator to use in the morning

Day 9 – estimated time 3.5 hours

Hatsuzoe, the first addition.

This section has four distinct phases: broken up by steeping, draining and steaming. This is mostly the same as day 2 with a different amount of rice and without the yeast.

Do phase 1:

–          Start cooling the moto to 50F

–          Prepare rice

  • 2.5 cups of rice
  • Wash the rice in cold water till water is mostly clear
  • Steep in cold water with 1” water over top of rice for 1 hour

Do phase 2:

–          Drain rice and place in a colander to drain for an hour

Do phase 3:

–          Prepare steamer with cheese cloth liner

–          Add drained rice to steamer

–          Steam rice for 1 hour

Do phase 4:

–          30 minute check of the steaming rice to be sure you don’t run out of water in the steamer.

Do phase 5:

–          Ready sanitizer

–          Sanitize the large 5-7gallon fermentor

–          Cool rice after steaming – using1.25 cups water that was prepared day 8 and placed in refrigerator

–          Place steamed and cooled rice into the fermentor

–          Mix the moto with the rice in the fermentor

–          Loosely cover with plastic wrap and place where it will not get too much light (target temp: 55F)

Do for next 48 hours at 12 hour intervals:

–          Stir the ferment for 5 minutes

Day 10 in the evening – estimated time 10 minutes

The second day (hours 24 to 48 after first addition Hatsuzoe) is Odori, the dancing ferment.

The ferment should now be about 55F to 60F.

Do:

–          Mix with Moto:

  • 2.25 cups koji
  • 4.5 cups water

–          Place 4.25 cups water into the refrigerator to use in the morning

Day 11 – estimated time 3.5 hours

Nakazoe, the middle addition begins 48 hours after the first addition, Hatsuzoe.

This section has four distinct phases: broken up by steeping, draining and steaming. This is mostly the same as day 9 with a different amount of rice.

Do phase 1:

–          Start cooling the ferment to 50F

–          Prepare rice

  • 6 cups of rice
  • Wash the rice in cold water till water is mostly clear
  • Steep in cold water with 1” water over top of rice for 1 hour

Do phase 2:

–          Drain rice and place in a colander to drain for an hour

Do phase 3:

–          Prepare steamer with cheese cloth liner

–          Add drained rice to steamer

–          Steam rice for 1 hour

Do phase 4:

–          30 minute check of the steaming rice to be sure you don’t run out of water in the steamer.

Do phase 5:

–          Cool rice after steaming – using 4.25 cups water prepared on day 10 and placed in refrigerator

–          Place steamed and cooled rice into the fermentor

–          Mix well in the fermentor

–          Loosely cover the fermentor with plastic wrap and place somewhere out of the light where it will cool (target temp: 50F)

Do in the evening:

–          Mix with ferment:

  • 3.5 cups koji
  • 10 cups water

–          Place 6 cups water into the refrigerator to use in the morning

Do every 12 hours:

–          Stir the ferment

Day 12 – estimated time 3.5 hours

Tomezoe,  the last addition in the buildup of the Moromi, begins 24 hours after Nakazoe.

This section has four distinct phases: broken up by steeping, draining and steaming. This is mostly the same as day 11 with a different amount of rice.

Do phase 1:

–          Prepare rice

  • 10 cups of rice
  • Wash the rice in cold water till water is mostly clear
  • Steep in cold water with 1” water over top of rice for 1 hour

Do phase 2:

–          Drain rice and place in a colander to drain for an hour

Do phase 3:

–          Prepare steamer with cheese cloth liner

–          Add drained rice to steamer

–          Steam rice for 1 hour

Do phase 4:

–          30 minute check of the steaming rice to be sure you don’t run out of water in the steamer.

Do phase 5:

–          Cool rice after steaming – using 6 cups water prepared on day 11 and placed in refrigerator

–          Place steamed, cooled rice into the fermentor

–          Mix well with the rice in the fermentor

–          Loosely cover fermentor with plastic wrap and place where it will not get too much light (target temp: 50F)

Do for next 2 days at 12 hour intervals:

–          Stir the ferment

Day 32 – estimated time 1.5 hours

Time to press! We must separate the sake from the lees to start to clarify our sake. At this stage we also rack to the secondary fermentor (glass jugs).

Do phase 1:

–          Prepare the sanitizer solution

–          Sanitize 3 glass 1 gallon jugs

–          Sanitize 3 air locks with stoppers

–          Sanitize a container for collecting sake from the pressing

–          Sanitize a funnel

–          Prepare the cloth or bag for holding the moromi while pressing

–          Line the container for collecting your sake with the cloth or bag for holding the moromi

Do phase 2:

–          Transfer a portion of the moromi into the cloth or bag and begin to squeeze the sake through to the container, transfer the sake into a jug

–          Repeat until all the moromi has been pressed and the sake is in the 3 jugs

–          Place jugs where it will not get too much light (target temp: 50F)

Do phase 3 (optional):

–          Prepare an Hydrometer to measure the specific gravity

–          Place sample in the Hydrometer jar and float the Hydrometer in the sample

–          Read and record the specific gravity. (Expect it to be around 1.010 to 1.002) depending on clarity

The sake in the jugs will still be quite milky in most cases but should not have any rice mixed in.

Day 44 – estimated time 0.5 hours

Transfer sake off lees into new jugs (i.e., rack sake to new jugs). The idea is to move the clear sake off the lees that have sunk to the bottom without stirring them up and mixing them with the clear sake.

Do:

–          Sanitize 3 new glass 1 gallon jugs

–          Decant or siphon the clear sake into the new glass jugs

–          Fill new jugs up to within a few inches of the top

–          Place jugs where it will not get too much light (target temp: 50F)

Day 54 – estimated time 0.5 hours

Rack again. Transfer sake off lees into new jugs. The idea is to move the clear sake off the lees that have sunk to the bottom again without stirring them up and mixing them with the clear sake.

Do:

–          Sanitize 3 new glass 1 gallon jugs

–          Decant or siphon the clear sake into the new glass jugs

–          Fill new jugs up to within a few inches of the top

–          Place jugs where it will not get too much light (target temp: 50F)

Day 68 – estimated time 2.0 hours

Time to rack and pasteurize.

Do phase 1:

–          Sanitize 3 new glass containers

–          Rack the clear sake of the lees and into the new jugs

The sake and lees left may be the correct consistency for nigori

Do phase 2:

–          Prepare a double boiler or water bath on the stove that can hold the jugs for sake for pasteurization, most likely one jug at a time

–          Place the jug in the water bath while the water is cool

–          Bring the water bath up in temperature tracking the temperature of the sake (target 140F to 150F)

–          Remove sake from bath when it reaches temperature and let cool to room temperature

–          Place airlock on jug and return to cool place (target temp. 45F to 50F)

Day 88 – estimated time 3.0 hours

Time to rack, pasteurize and bottle.

Do phase 1:

–          Sanitize 3 new glass containers

–          Rack the clear sake of the lees and into the new jugs

The sake and lees left may be the correct consistency for nigori

Do phase 2:

–          Prepare a double boiler or water bath on the stove that can hold the jugs for sake for pasteurization, most likely one jug at a time

–          Place the jug in the water bath while the water is cool

–          Bring the water bath up in temperature tracking the temperature of the sake (target 140F to 150F)

–          Remove sake from bath when it reaches 140F

Do phase 3 (optional):

–          Prepare an Hydrometer to measure the specific gravity

–          Place sample in the Hydrometer jar and float the Hydrometer in the sample

–          Read and record the specific gravity. (Expect it to be around 0.998 to 0.990) depending on clarity

Do phase 4:

–          Sanitize a funnel and bottles with caps

–          Fill bottles with pasteurized sake and cap

–          Let cool to room temperature

–          Store and drink when ready

Following this procedure will produce sake that is clear, dry and very high quality.

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  • Jon
    2:59 am on March 18th, 2018 1

    Thanks Will,

    Such a great resource you’ve created here. Nothing close to it on the internet for sake. Was a bit worried my koji hadn’t taken properly as I only had spotty growth but saw an earlier comment you left saying sometimes this was ok.

    Seems to be creating a lot of gas now so the koji must be working to make those sugars. I’ll let you know how it turns out!

    Thanks again,
    Jon

  • Jon
    6:42 am on July 8th, 2018 2

    Well… My first ever batch turned out ok!

    Nice flavour and lovely colour, sort of golden but not too much. Like a very light wine. Nice and clear too.

    It doesn’t taste as strong as other sake I’ve tried, not sure if it was a case of too much additional water (I only added 950ml though) or that my koji want quite up to the job.

    A few lessons learnt along the way. Next time I’ll definitely make a 3 box press… Saw it somewhere else but can’t remember where now. Basically; 3 big plastic tubs, large enough for pillowcase of sake. Bottom one has one hole in side near the bottom for a tube to run sake from into a new container. Middle goes inside that one. Has lots of holes in the bottom and a few in the sides, put your pillowcase of unfiltered sake in here. Top box pushes down on pillow, fill with water for extra weight!

    Next time I’ll make sure I’m 100% confident in my koji before starting my brew.

    Unfortunately it’s far too hot here for sake brewing now (UK) so I’ll have to wait and have another go in September.

    Cheers,
    Jon

  • Will
    10:23 am on July 8th, 2018 3

    Hey, Thanks for the update!

  • Nathan
    7:14 pm on August 24th, 2018 4

    Hello! Are you still reading this?

    You say at the end that this produces a clear, dry sake. I love that, but I’m curious… what if I want to produce a sweeter sake or even a nigori sake? What do I need to do differently?

  • Will
    9:19 am on August 25th, 2018 5

    Hey Nathan,
    For a sweeter sake there are two routes, ameliorate as discussed on the recipe page or stop the fermentation sooner. Stopping fermentation sooner can be done by pasteurizing sooner. A second way to stop fermentation sooner, taken from wine makers, is to add Potassium Sorbate. For the purist the early pasteurization is the method of choice as amelioration and potassium sorbate both add non-traditional items to the brew. Changing the recipe can also result in different outcomes.

    Thanks,
    Will

  • Nathan
    8:02 pm on August 24th, 2018 6

    Hey! Are you still getting questions?

    I was wondering… if I wanted to go for a sweeter sake, what should I do? Also, what should I do if I want a nigori?

  • Will
    9:25 am on August 25th, 2018 7

    I forgot to mention nigori on your first question. If you follow the recipe but don’t work too hard at clearing the sake you will have nigori. Its easier done than you’d expect. Or said the other way around, it harder than you’d expect to remove all the lees.

  • Eric
    8:35 pm on October 29th, 2018 8

    HI.. Why do you put the airlocks on the gallon bottles. Is there fermentation still occuriing or is it to prevent oxygen from entering. If I don’t have airlocks is there an alternative? Could I fill bottles all the way to the top and close them off?

  • Will
    10:05 am on October 30th, 2018 9

    Hey Eric, No you don’t need to use air locks. Don’t close them though because they may still be fermenting some. You could place some foil over the top to prevent stuff from falling in while allowing gases to escape.

  • Eric
    8:37 pm on October 29th, 2018 10

    I forgot to ask. How much time can the sake yeast be without refrigeration? I live a little out of the way and sometimes it takes a little extra time for packages to get to me.. I want to order some stuff from your site. Do you carry the mesh bags or the idofor?

    BTW great site. This was awesome to watch. Very helpful

  • Will
    10:06 am on October 30th, 2018 11

    I don’t have a time to give you. In general, the shorter the better.

  • Eric
    8:39 pm on October 29th, 2018 12

    Do you carry the Mesh bag for sale or the idofor? Great site BTW. Incredible resource

  • Will
    10:08 am on October 30th, 2018 13

    No, I don’t carry the mesh bags or iodophor. Check out a local brew shop.

    Thanks,
    Will

  • Joe
    12:57 pm on October 30th, 2018 14

    Hey Will,

    New brewer here, and the shubo is happily fermenting right now. Thanks for all your great info, and for condensing / organizing Fred’s original recipe in your book. I really like the approach you’ve taken there, which is to steam the rice in the evenings (instead of mornings). It’s definitely easier on my work schedule.

    A couple question (for now):

    1) Steamed rice temp – As in your video, my steamed rice temp was quite high for about 30 minutes even after adding the chilled water on Day 1 (before adding to koji / yeast). I am considering changing the counter top water vs chilled water ratio from 2c / 0.5c to something like 1.5c / 1c, to help the rice cool down to room temperature more quickly. Any reason I shouldn’t consider this?

    2) CO2 – In the beer world, brewers take pains to spray some CO2 over the top of their ferment to avoid oxidation. In the sake world, I expect that this would be likely unnecessary during the shubo / moromi phases, given the activity, but do you hear of anyone adding this to the top of the carboys during 2nd ferment before capping / airlock?

    Thanks,
    Joe

  • Will
    1:16 pm on October 31st, 2018 15

    Hey Joe,

    No issues with chilling a higher percentage of the water.

    Often home brewers will do things like topping up with CO2 but I have not heard of any commercial brewer doing so.

    Thanks,
    Will

 

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