Ingredients – Strange Names and Where to Buy Them
One by one, here are the ingredients listed in the above recipe and how to find them.
Short Grain Rice – Here in the U.S.A. this variety is often called “pearl” or “California pearl.” The brand I prefer for making sake (and sushi!) is Kokuho Rose Sushi Rice. It’s not expensive, and readily available in grocery stores that cater to ethnic foods. I’ve even seen it at my local Fred Meyer (Kroger to you East Coasters). If you can’t find it, you can use pretty much any short grain white rice you can get your hands on. Niko Niko Calrose Rice is fairly ubiquitous and, though somewhat bland for my taste, works just fine for making sake.
I’ve recently been talking to the folks at F.H. Steinbart Co., a homebrew supply store based in Oregon. It seems they have a nice deal with SakéOne that allows them to buy some of SakéOne’s 60% polish rice for sale to homebrewers. If you want to take a crack at making your own ginjo sake, that’s the rice you want and it’s reasonably priced too! They also sell the koji that SakéOne uses as well. Not recommended for first-time sake brewers.
Cold Mountain Rice Koji – Without a doubt the most difficult product to find, simply because you don’t know where to look! The first time I attempted sake, I sent my poor wife around to every Asian market in town looking for this item. She never did find it. I actually tripped over it at a large local ethnic store called New Sagaya. Really, any grocery store that caters to a wide range of ethnic interests (especially Japanese) will have this item – hey, if I can get it in Alaska, it’s probably available where you live! If not, there is a web store that sells it pretty cheap. Alternatively, your local homebrew supply store may stock koji-kin spores, with which you can make your own kome-koji. One packet makes enough for several batches of sake. Push comes to shove, you can always order (very last item on the page) the koji kin off of the internet.
I want to point out here that in this recipe we are actually using a total of 12.5 pounds of rice: 25% of our rice is in the form of koji, in which the rice has already been cooked. This must be taken into account if you opt to make your own koji from koji-kin and rice. Don’t forget to buy the extra rice! And keep in mind that rice expands and increases in volume by about 100% when steamed, so for our recipe you need three to four cups of dry rice to produce the required 6 cups of koji. Additionally, many readers have mentioned to me that Cold Mountain Rice Koji just isn’t available where they live. If that’s true for you, or if you want to make your own koji for any other reason, I have written a guide for doing so. Click here to read it.
Sake Yeast – While we’re on the subject of homebrew supply stores, you’re going to need some yeast. You’re not going to find sake yeast in a grocery store, so hit the yellow pages and locate a homebrew supply store near you and see if they stock WYeast WY4134 Sake #9 yeast. If they don’t stock it, and they’re not willing to get it for you, this is something else that’s sold on the internet, though shipping yeast is not without risk. If you just can’t wait, white wine yeast will certainly do the job. Please don’t use bread yeast, though. I know a lot of other online sake homebrew guides say to use it, and Asian homebrewers do it all the time, but believe me they wouldn’t if homebrewing were legal in Japan.
Yeast Strains Traditionally, Japan’s Central Brewer’s Union has kept a yeast bank of several strains used to make sake in kurai all over Japan. These strains never named by the Union (though they usually have colloquial names used by brewers), instead they’re assigned numbers: sake #1, sake #2, etc. Over time yeast strains have come and gone in popularity with sake producers, but there are two which stand out as being currently the most popular with modern sake producers:
Sake #7: This yeast is the most commonly used strain in Japan (and probably the world), being the preferred yeast for non-premium sakes. It’s a clean fermenter that produces very little in the way of esters and fusel alcohols at normal sake fermentation temperatures. This strain is now available to homebrewers year-round from White Labs as WLP705.
Sake #9: This yeast is popular with producers of ginjo grade sakes. First discovered in 1953 by the Kumamoto Prefectural Sake Research Center (the brewers of Koro sake), it is often referred to by the nickname “Kumamoto Kobo” in honor of its discoverers. This strain produces fragrant and fruity aroma (it reminds me of strawberries and vanilla) and mild level of acidity. This is the strain that is available to homebrewers as Wyeast WY3134 “Sake #9″.
Sake #701 & #901: The “01” in these yeast numbers denotes “foamless” variants of the #7 and #9 strains described above. It’s recently been brought to my attention that these two strains are becoming available as active dry yeast produced by the Australian company AB|Murai. I haven’t yet been able to source these two strains of yeast for North American homebrewers (currently the U.S. distributers target only commercial brewers and sell yeast in 500gm blocks), but I’m hopeful that someday soon we’ll see these yeasts being sold in the 10-12gm packets that homebrewers normally use.
Epsom Salt – We’re out of the hard-to-find ingredients now. This is available at your local megamart, grocery store, or pharmacy usually in the pharmaceuticals or first-aid department. I bet you probably have some under your bathroom sink or in the medicine cabinet to treat the occasional pulled muscle, even.
Morton Salt Substitute – Grocery store. Morton is a pretty ubiquitous brand, so you shouldn’t have any reason to even consider a different brand of product. If for some reason you just can’t find this brand, read labels. If you can’t find a salt substitute label that lists potassium chloride, just leave it out. You probably won’t miss it. This is an optional ingredient, but it’s one of those ingredients that can make the difference between “really good” sake and “great” sake.
Experienced all-grain homebrewers will recognize this and the epsom salt as a simple water treatment – we’re adjusting our water (by adding magnesium, potassium, sulfates, and other compounds) to imitate optimum sake brewing water by providing minerals that will directly affect the final flavor of the sake as well as provide trace minerals that the yeast require.
Water – Only mentioning this because all municipal water sources in our nation are chlorinated. Sake doesn’t have the same issues with chlorophenols that beer does, but I still prefer to leave the chlorine out. Filter your water or buy distilled (it’s cheap). However, if you use distilled or reverse osmosis filtered water, the above mentioned yeast nutrients and epsom salt become a required addition.
Advanced Brewing: We just touched on mineral content, but there is one other mineral the sake homebrewer needs to be aware of in their brewing water, and that is iron (Fe). Even in the tiniest amount, iron can really wreck a sake by darkening the color and damaging the aroma in a very short period of time. For this reason it’s really important to avoid water with any iron content at all. Water reports from your local water utility are usually free, but if for some reason you have any doubt at all about your water, just pick up some distilled water from the grocery store.