From Rice to Bottle
Starts as rice, ends as sake. Here are three of SakéOne's offerings: the Momokawa, made in Oregon, and two imports from Japan.
Rice arrives in 2,000 pound bags from Sacramento. For each batch—that's around 3,000 gallons of finished sake—the rice is milled four times, for twenty-four hours per milling.
The rice is hauled to the top of this mill; it falls into the neck of the hourglass, where a stone spins and jostles each grain of rice, removing a certain portion of its exterior. A grain elevator circulates the rice back up to the top, and this continues for 24 hours—and then all that is repeated four times. (This machine, like virtually everything at SakéOne, is Japanese.) At this point, the rice has been polished down to about 60% of its former size.
On the left, rice that's been polished down to 60%; on the right, far less polished at 90%. The grains on the left are smoother and distinctly lighter in color.
The Mold Spritzer
The rice is first soaked; then steamed, in 400 pound batches for about an hour; then quickly cooled before a fine mist of mold spores is sprayed on top. This koji grows into the rice and produces enzymes, which help break down starch into glucose.
The Rice Sauna
Okay, it's not really a sauna, but sure feels like one. This cedar-lined room is heated to about 90°F, at carefully controlled humidity. Both are calibrated to encourage rice to germinate and maximize enzyme potential. The rice hangs out here, spread in a thin layer on this bed, for two days.
Koji Rice Ready for Brewing
At this point, the rice grains (now called Koji rice) are soft and squishy; if you pop 'em in your mouth, they're sweet and a little tangy.
Two living organisms help make sake: the mold, which we've already added, and then the yeast. The vial shown here is a yeast strain originally from Japan. About this amount goes into the yeast propagator, where in 40 hours, it can grow from one gram to about 2000 grams—enough for a full batch of sake, about 3000 gallons.
To kick off the brewing process, the Koji rice, yeast, and water are stirred together in the moto, or "first tank," where it starts to work for about four days.
After that, a full batch is assembled, with all the remaining rice, and the brewing continues for about three weeks, until it hits the desired alcohol level (generally 18-19% ABV) and flavor.
At this point, the sake is very cloudy and dense with rice particulate, so it's filtered to draw out the rice solids. (Nigori sakes aren't filtered completely, which is why they're still a little cloudy.)
From here, the sake ages in tanks; at SakéOne, they use both American-made stainless steel tanks (like the kind used for winemaking) and traditional Japanese sake tanks, which are iron on the outside and glazed porcelain on the inside. The sake ages for at six weeks, in the case of lighter, fruitier styles; for the drier, fuller ones, it can be up to 3 or 4 months.
Pasteurized, bottled, labeled, and shipped off. Each bottle has its own bottling date stamped on the bottom, to keep track of freshness.
Off It Goes
Gratuitous Baby Animal Photo
SakéOne is surrounded by rolling hills and farmland in Forest Grove, Oregon, just outside of Portland. This is Maui, a 3-day-old baby sheep at my B&B nearby. (It wouldn't be a Serious Eats slideshow without an adorable animal at the end, right?)