What you’ll need:
- Bag of rice
- Rice wine yeast
- Bucket with lid
- Cheesecloth or paint strainer bag
- Bottle or container for storage
- Airlock (optional)
A note on amounts: in this guide I used about 4 cups of uncooked rice and 2 yeast balls. I'll update this post with the final amount of wine produced once it's done fermenting.
What rice to choose?
If you’re reading this guide, then you probably have never brewed rice wine before. In which case, you probably don’t need to go out and buy some super fancy expensive rice made exclusively for Sake brewers. Unlike grape wine, the kind of rice you use does not impact the flavor of the wine very much. So it really doesn’t matter what kind of rice you buy (unless you’re some Sake aficionado who has a palate that can identify minute differences between wine). You can use any kind of rice; brown or white; sweet rice or regular rice; it really doesn’t matter.
What yeast to choose?
The flavor of the wine actually mostly comes from the type of yeast being used, so this is where you can be creative. I’ve found that Chinese yeast (sold sometimes as “Shanghai yeast balls”) makes a wine that is very sweet; almost a dessert wine. Japanese koji on the other hand, results in a more balanced wine; similar to a white grape wine. I have not experimented with Korean nuruk yet but I will update this post once I have. As an aside, the “yeast” used in rice wine isn’t actually a yeast. It’s actually a mold which I find very fascinating. Anyways, now that you've gathered everything and you’ve selected your rice and yeast, you can get started.
Step 1: Wash and Cook the Rice
The first step is probably the most important and the one people usually forget or do wrong. When you buy rice from a store it comes in a big bag that might contain dirt or other small particles. Therefore, you always want to thoroughly wash the rice before cooking it. The easiest way is to fill the cooking pot with rice and water and then use your hand to move the rice around. You’ll notice that the water will start to become cloudy. That’s all the loose particles you want to get rid of. Once you slosh the rice around for a bit, just dump out the bad water and redo the process. You want to repeat this rinsing process several times until the water becomes clear. After that, the rice will be ready to cook. If you have a rice cooker, then just follow your normal process for cooking rice. If you don’t have a rice cooker, you can use any large pot you have laying around and make sure to fill the pot with enough water to cover above the rice for about a cm. Then put the pot on the stove on a medium setting and let cook for about 15-20 minutes. You’ll know the rice is done when all the water has evaporated. Once done cooking, let the rice cool down to at least room temperature.
Step 2: Mix in Yeast
After the rice is cooled to the point where you can handle it, you can now add the yeast. If you’re using Chinese yeast balls, you want to crush up the balls into a powder. The easiest way to achieve this is to put the balls into a Ziploc bag and pound away at it with a rolling pin or glass bottle. Once the ball is broken down into smaller chunks you can use the rolling pin or bottle to roll back and forth over the yeast until it becomes powder-like. Then simply sprinkle the powder over the rice and mix until the powder is evenly dispersed. If you’re using Japanese koji that is already prepared as a starter (i.e. it comes already pre-mixed with some rice) then you just need to mix the koji starter with your cooked rice until it’s all evenly combined.
Step 3: Let Ferment
Once your rice/yeast mixture is evenly combined, it’s ready to be fermented. You can wrap the mixture in cheesecloth or put it in a paint strainer bag so it’s easier to strain later. Drop the mixture into the bucket and make sure the lid is sealed tight. If you’re using an airlock, make sure to fill the airlock with enough water to properly seal. Once the lid is on the bucket, just let it sit for about 3-4 weeks. If you’re not using an airlock, you’ll need to open the bucket every once in a while to let built-up gasses escape, otherwise it might blow the lid off one day and scare the crap out of you. You should check on the mixture every once in a while anyways though, just to make sure the yeast culture is healthy and there is no mold.
Step 4: Bottle
After 3-4 weeks, the rice wine should be done fermenting and ready to be bottled. Using the cheesecloth or paint strainer bag, carefully squeeze out as much liquid as you can from the rice. Don’t worry if any rice particles remain in the wine as they are completely safe to consume. In fact, the leftover rice can be eaten or used to make a number of difference things. After you’ve strained the rice, transfer the wine over to the bottle/storage container. From here, you can either pasteurize the wine which will allow it to last longer or just throw it in your fridge (it should last a few months without pasteurization). Your rice wine is now ready to enjoy!
I'll be posting updates on how this batch turns out so stay tuned!
Bonus tips: if you used Chinese yeast balls and your wine came out sweet, throwing some fruit or ginger into the bottle after it’s done and letting that sit for a few days makes an excellent dessert wine!