Ask Beau - "Have You Ever Made Sake?"
The quick answer is yes! I have made sake on numerous occasions in Japan at several different breweries all over the country. Am I a qualified brewer to make batches on my own without help? Nope! I would ruin some serious product if put in charge. I am no Toji! Beau-ji yes! Toji no! I feel comfortable with my title of kurabito or sake brewer worker.
That said I have personally made sake twice on my own here in the US. Once in my bathtub and once in my mouth. I figured as a student of sake it would be important for me to try making sake using one of the most ancient techniques known to the industry. The other attempt was to replicate a traditional way of making doburoku or "bathtub" sake, which were at-home brewing techniques to make illegal "non-taxed" sake.
On one trip to Kobe I purchased 150lbs of AAA Yamadanishiki brewing rice from Hyogo Prefecture. If I was going to make bathtub sake it was going to be the damn best bathtub sake in the history of sake. The rice was extremely expensive and so too was the Association #9 kobo (yeast) that I purchased from a company in Kobe. All I needed was some mold and decided to skimp on this part. I could have purchased some quality Aspergillus oryzae (yellow mold) but instead just used the naturally occurring mold in my bathtub. (I had to scrape my shampoo bottle bottoms get into the grout work, but eventually I got enough to convert that long chain starch molecule into a sugar. The molds really went for the shinpaku of the tremendous rice.)
When I got back to the US I was really excited to make my True Beau Shu. I really went for it. I used huge soup kettles to steam the rice and then dumped into the tub. I used a small bucket for my yeast starter, and then I practiced a technique that a female toji in Kyoto taught me. She makes kimoto sake using her feet, so too did I. Yup, there I was stomping away for hours in my tub. I tried to whip up some serious lactic acid. Stomping away. Naked and stomping away. I even sang a cute little kimoto making song that I learned at a brewery in Kobe. Then I added my yeast starter and away I went. For 22 days I watched my joyous bubbling tub. I watched as the bubbles became larger with more shimmery. I scraped off the dead flies and gnats that were attracted to my sweet nectar. And then it was done.
My tub looked like soupy oatmeal and I knew it was time to filter my brew. I used a strainer, and filled 18 bottles. 18 bottles of precious True Beau Shu. I continually tasted throughout the fermentation process - dipping my whole face under the surface of the sake and drinking heartily. Often, as there was very little oxygen in and around the bathtub, I became woozy and nearly fell into the tub on several occasions. Had I fallen in then I would have certainly made True Beau Shu. Nevertheless, I could perhaps have bottled 30 bottles of sake, but I needed to taste and taste and taste. So the magic number was 18. Who got to taste those wonderful bottles of True sake? Many unsuspecting tasters. You see, I would use the doburoku sakes for my numerous tasting classes and lectures. And of course I would tell the tasters only after the fact that they tasted the best my bathtub had to offer. (Yes - there were two outright pukers when they learned of this fact, and plenty of gaggers) How did it taste? Many said a combination of soap and old cheese. A few said it tasted like hell itself. But what the heck did they know? They were just sake plebes, neophytes who had no clue as to what precious and yummy sake tastes like. The fools!
My second effort was even more crude and was a direct replication of the ancient art of chew and spit sake. Except instead of a gaggle of village virgins who chewed and spit I was just me on a bender over a long weekend that I vaguely recollect. And unlike my bathtub sake where I spared no expense I did the chew and spit on the cheap. I used Uncle Ben's rice and a microwave (I think).
The theory behind chew and spit is that the enzymes in your mouth - saliva - attack the cooked rice breaking the starch molecules into wonderful sugar molecules. That's the first step. The second step is after chewing and slurping your ricey saliva you spit that wad into a bucket. The ancients used wood buckets, but I could only find an old Crisco can (jumbo sized). My memory of my master brewing experiment is hazy as I was liquored to my gills on cheap futsushu and stuffed to the brink with No-Dozes. I cannot really recall where I did most of my brewing, but there was a significant amount of spit and chewed rice in my bathroom in and around the shower. I do recall passing out twice. (spilled the can on one tumble). I also recall how sore my cheeks were and how much it hurt to continually spit. That created all the more need for me to keep drinking my cheap sake, which I guess resulted in a kijo-shu of sorts as my spit was loaded.
Fast forward two weeks! My Crisco brewing can looked absolutely disgusting, but there were little bubbles of fermenting goo. Something was working! I was making sake! The open air yeasts of my house were working their magic. They were converting sugar into glorious alcohol and to think it all came from me. (Who needs virgins?) A week later and my little vat was popping and plopping like a kid's bubble machine, and I figured that my chew brew was ready. So I went and got a sieve, and started the process of transferring my luscious liquid into plastic water bottles. I used cobalt blue bottles so people couldn't see the disgustingness within. (I told two people who would later buy my brew that I used blue bottles to obscure the light to protect the sake.)
All in all I made four partially filled bottles of sake. Four freaking bottles of my spit! Impressive heh? As Borat woud say "High Five!" But when I was holding a bottle in my hand I said to myself that there was no way that I was going to taste that durge. But I had to know how it tasted, so I considered friends and even some folks that I don't consider friends. Then I dawned on me. I had the perfect taster. His name is Ronny and he lives down in the alley behind my house. As I ran down to see if Ronny was there I kept practicing my lines. "Hey Ronny - Merry Christmas (It was actually July) - I have a special present for you. It is wine. Riiiiiiice wine. (I really pronounced the rice to get him to think that it was very special) and I want you to have it! But you must drink it in front of me so I get some holiday spirit too!"
Ronny was there. I said my lines. And before my eyes he twisted off the cap and took a large pull on the blue bottle. Now in my lifetime I have seen people make the "Oh my god that is so disgusting" face before, but never have I seen a person make the face that Ronny did. He was silent, but his face was screaming. It actually looked like he was in pain. And then it happened. Ronny started coughing. Not your typical cough like "my lungs tickle a little" or the cough where some fluid goes down the "wrong pipe," but a cough that threatened to turn Ronny inside out. As his face reddened he tried to make eye contact with me. That's when I ran.
So as I said before I am not a master brewer. Heck, I am not even a brewer. I am just a guy who likes to work in breweries and on occasion will dabble in some home brewing.
Please send your sake specific questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. (This address is not for general questions and I only review the questions once per month. All correspondence should use email@example.com.)