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June 9, 2012

Brewing Sake (Book review)

If you have been yearning to try your hand at sake brewing, but didn't know how to go about it, now there is an excellent guide: Brewing Sake - Release the Toji Within by William G. Auld (website).

This book, written in clear English, lifts the mysterious veil hanging over the ingredients, equipment and technical know how. It tells you step by step how to make your own sake at home - starting with how to get the necessary ingredients when you are living in the U.S., or which implements to use in order to enable brewing on a home scale.

But it does more than that. It also explains all the processes such as fermentation, and details the chemistry that lies at the bottom of the interplay between koji, yeast and enzymes. So even for non-brewers, this book offers valuable insights into the constitution of the rice, the ideal sort of water, the koji, the moto or yeast starter, and the final fermentation. It is a treasure house of technical knowledge.

And Will Auld is very thorough: he not only describes the Sokujo-moto yeast starter - the most popular one now used in most types of sake - but also the traditional and laborious Kimoto-method (leading to sake with "body") and does not even stop at that, for he also goes into the predecessor of Kimoto, the medieval Bodaimoto method!

As I am living in Japan, I can't start brewing myself - except that I have no space in my apartment, it is still forbidden here. About 130 years ago the Japanese government outlawed all home-brewing, as the state at that time was very much dependent on alcohol taxes (one-third of its total income). This dependency has now changed, but the only alcoholic beverage you are allowed to make at home is Umeshu - just around this time supermarkets are selling plums, shochu liquor and sugar as sets to make your own plum wine.

However, as I said in the above, Brewing Sake is also useful and interesting for the technical basics and I will be often returning to it.