Sake is a type of fermentation liquor, but instead of using hops or grapes, the process requires rice, instead. The basic idea is that yeast, when placed in large quantities of any sort of agricultural crop will ferment it and create juices with alcoholic levels. Each type of drink is created with a variety of nuances which is why wine is far different than beer. Indeed the varied amount of nuance adds flavor and interest in the drink’s profile, and that’s never more true than it is with sake. There are a variety of different ways to craft sake and all can be completed with varying levels of finesse and accomplishment. Let’s take a look.

The Beginning 

Sake is a rice based fermented alcohol, which requires different “first steps” in the fermentation process than a beverage like beer would. When making sake, the first order of business is to wash the rice of whatever type you’re using. This is often called “polishing” and helps to remove certain proteins in the rice that could create strange flavors in the sake when it interacts with yeast. Then, the rice will be steamed and mixed with the yeast and a rice cultivated mold known as “koji.” Some sake breweries are known to make their own koji for their fermentation purposes. This is done by adding spores of the mold to a batch of steamed rice. Once this is complete, the steamed rice is incubated and creates more of the koji needed for the sake production. This is often mixed with yeast initially to create the mash that will be fermented. The koji and yeast often work together in these beginning stages to make glucose out of the starch in the rice. Over a series of days, more koji and yeast and rice will be added to the mixture until the proper chemical levels are reached. This balances the fermentation process and is performed differently for a variety of different sake manufacturers. 

Fermenting Sake

The fermentation process is traditionally called “shikomi.” The fermentation process for sake is a three-step process. The first step starts with what we’ve described above: the koji, yeast and rice are all added together and allowed to stand for a day. As the yeast multiplies in the standing mixture, a process called “odori,” the mixture is permitted to stand another day. Then another batch of a similar mixture of koji, water and and steamed rice is added to the fermentation chamber. This process is completed two times, about a day apart. Sake crafters can toggle the flavor of their final product at this stage by changing factors like the fermentation temperature, the quality and type of rice, the amount of koji mold added and type and amount of yeast added. The mash that is created from this fermentation process will sit and ferment for around 18-32 days. After that gestation period, the mixture will be pressed, filtered, and blended. 

Customizing Sake Blends

Obviously, this is only a bare bones explanation of how sake is crafted. Sake recipes , however, become personalized in many ways from the quality of rice used to the way the process may be slightly altered for your purposes. For example, the type of milling your rice goes through can greatly affect the amount of starch it has left in it and what kind of heat manipulation the rice kernels underwent before getting to you. This greatly affects the final taste of the sake and other parts of personalizing the process can as well like how you wash and soak the rice, how it’s steamed, and how you press the rice. 

Find Out More About Sake at Moto-i In Minneapolis

Curious about sake? We make our own right here in Minneapolis. Come find out more about what makes ours special and how we’ve altered the traditional methods to suit our needs and create a crisp sake that everyone loves.