You will need some very basic equipment for making sake. If you have a basic homebrewing or winemaking equipment kit, you’re already most of the way there! Here’s a short list:
- Fermenter – A five-gallon, food-grade plastic bucket with a tight-fitting lid that has been drilled for a fermentation airlock like this one, but the spigot is not necessary (you won’t normally use it). It need not be as expensive as the one in the link, though: these kinds of buckets, with their lids, are often available for free if you just ask your local bakery or deli for one – just make sure to ask for one that hasn’t had anything toxic (like lye) or super pungent (pickles) in it.
Do not use a carboy or any other narrow-neck vessel for this! Believe me, the only thing worse than trying to cram several pounds of sticky steamed rice down the neck of a carboy is trying to figure out how you’re going to get it all back out afterward! A bucket really is the best tool for this job.
- StarSan or BTF Iodophor Sanitizer – Yes, I consider this to be hardware. Yes, it’s required equipment. Everything that comes into contact with your fermenting sake must be sanitized. If you don’t sanitize, your sake will spoil. Both of these products are available from your friendly neighborhood homebrew supply shop, as well as by mail order as long as you don’t live in Alaska like me.
Many older homebrewing guides and books (including Fred Eckhardt’s work) suggest using a solution of household bleach (sodium hypochlorite) and water to sanitize your equipment. I recommend staying away from that method because, while it does kill spoilage organisms, it still needs to be rinsed off – which pretty much defeats the purpose of sanitizing in the first place. If you don’t rinse it off, you run into the problem of the chlorine tainting your homebrew. Trust me, you don’t want that to happen.
Also, percarbonate based cleansers like One Step by LOGIC, Inc. are not sanitizers. They are certainly effective as cleansers, but not so much as sanitizers.
- A large steamer – Really the only specialized piece of equipment you need, a large steamer that can hold 3 to 5 pounds of rice would be very nice to have. Steamed rice doesn’t get mushy and gluey like boiled rice does, and this is important for the koji to get hold of it. Large aluminum steamers sell for about $30 at your local Asian market, so it’s not a huge investment. If nothing else a cheap and common bamboo steamer will do just fine, as long as you line it with some cheesecloth or even come canvas. Really as far as I’m concerned, no self-respecting kitchen should be without a steamer of some kind, so you might as well make it a good one.
- A racking cane and hose – Like beer, sake can be damaged by contact with oxygen, so siphoning is generally the rule when transferring it between vessels (the exception being when pressing the lees). This is available at your local homebrew supply store, if you don’t already have one as part of your homebrewing/winemaking equipment kit.
- Airlocks and one-hole stoppers – Again, you want to protect your fermenting sake from the environment, and that’s what these are for. If you bought a homebrewing kit, you have these already.
- Glass jugs of one-gallon capacity – Later in the process you’re going to want to get the sake off of the rice lees, but it’s not quite ready to drink yet (unless you like nigorizake). One-gallon glass jugs (like the ones good quality juices come in) will serve as perfect secondary fermenters or “bright tanks” in which your sake can finish fermenting, clear, and mature.
- A means to control fermentation temperature – Every homebrewer dreams of having a chest freezer with a temperature controller on it dedicated to his beer. I have one, and I love it. But fulfilling this requirement doesn’t necessarily mean you need a piece of equipment for the job. If you have a basement, garage, or any part of your home that stays in the 50ºF-55ºF (10ºC-13ºC) temperature range for at least part of the year, that will do nicely to keep your sake fermenting in the right temperature range for each step of the process.
On the next page, I’ll tell you how to prepare your rice for making sake.