I think this is a good time to take inventory of what I've figured out over the past year or so. There are a lot of unanswered questions, but I've made a ton of progress nailing down this process.
I've got a recipe for "exceptional" yeast cakes that worked once, last year.
I tried to make it a month ago and it rotted 😑
But hey, it worked once.
I also learned that the warning about "don't store this in a sealed container or it'll turn black and get gross" wasn't kidding, since my cakes did just that. Mr. Jia wasn't joking, apparently.
The recipe as I handed it out at Pennsic is posted at the bottom.
I made one rice wine for Pennsic that was delightful. Sweet, dark, saucy, it was great. I didn't get to panel it, sadly. I made one short-wine a while ago that also worked well. So I have a process that works sometimes.
Everything else has, frankly, been a disappointment. There's a real challenge to growing the yeast cultures correctly so that the timing works, and I think the degraded yeast cakes are a hindrance. I also think I still haven't steamed the millet right.
What you get when it doesn't work is either a sour, pale wine, if you had not-steamed-enough-millet. The failed rice short-wines were... stranger. Because the rice cooked fully, but didn't mash (converting starch to sugar), I was left with sour, starchy water with a viscous consistency. It's drinkable, but not actually pleasant in any way.
Mouth-woe, in other words.
The basic rice wine recipe (YE1W1 for those following along at home) I passed out at Pennsic is at the bottom of this post.
I think I'm going to give up on millet for a while. It's clear that I need polished millet, and figuring out how to do that seems impractical. Later wine books only use rice, and I think there are flavor reasons for that besides the difficulties in steaming and polishing.
I need a new batch of yeast cakes, so I'll start that soon. One question that's worth testing is whether I can use commercial whole wheat flour for the raw 1/3 of the cakes.
I also plan to iterate more on the rice wine recipes. On suggestion of someone from the brewers' guild, I bought a 1 gallon widemouth pickle jar, and my local brew shop had a lid for it which can take a bubbler. This will be a lot nicer than using a bowl, and hopefully let me watch the progress of waking up the yeast.
I've got more translations coming down the pike, but brewing is the bottleneck here, and I hesitate to post them without trying them. The ones with pasteurized wine are super tempting, though.
I also want to congratulate my friend Vika on her induction into the Order of the Maunche, a big fancy award for being awesome at arts and sciences in the fun-medieval-times group. She blogs about clothing and is pretty awesome, so check her out.
Exceptional Yeast Cakes #1Makes about 25
- 3 pounds whole wheat berries
- oil for frying
- optionally, commercial yeast balls, which can be found in Chinese supermarkets
- Place 1 pound of the berries into the steamer and steam them until they are soft.
- While the berries are steaming, stir-fry another pound of the berries in a large frying pan, stirring constantly until they are yellow and fragrant but not burnt. Immediately remove from the heat.
- Grind all three pounds of berries well.
- Combine all portions. If using, powder and mix in the commercial yeast balls. Form the mix into flattened balls about three inches across and one high, adding just enough water to hold them together.
- Place the balls in a clean box with limited but not completely restricted air flow. They'll drip, so make sure it's on a plate.
- Appease your gods, and make sacrifices to statues made of the paste as necessary.
- After seven days, flip the cakes.
- After seven days, gather the cakes in a pile.
- After seven days, take the cakes out. When dry enough, thread twine through the middle of them using a clean needle, and hang them to finish drying.
- Store in an open container.
Exceptional Yeast Cakes #1 Wine #1
Scaled to 100 mL of yeast cakes, which uses 2.1L of millet or 1.8L of rice and makes about 2 L of wine.
- 100 mL powdered exceptional yeast cakes, about one cake
- 2.1 L dry white millet or 1.8 L dry white sticky rice
- Dry the yeast cakes completely, and scrub them clean.
- Crush and grind the cakes into powder. Soak them in 500 mL water for three days until they start to bubble, and add them to your fermenter.
- Rinse and soak 300 mL of dry grain overnight.
- If using millet,
- Steam the millet for 20 minutes in a steamer lined with cloth.
- Spread the millet to cool.
- When cool, steam for another 20 minutes or until fully cooked.
- If using rice,
- Steam the rice in a steamer lined with cloth just until steam issues from the steamer
- Take the rice out, and cover it with boiling water.
- Spread the grain to cool, and then add to the fermenter.
- Add water. It's unclear how much to add.
- The next day, repeat steps 3-8 with 300 mL of grain.
- The next day, repeat steps 3-8 with 1L of grain.
- If using millet, three days later repeat steps 3-8 with 300 mL of grain.
- Several days or weeks later, once the mash has finished fermenting, transfer it into a cheesecloth or strainer bag and press it to extract the wine. You will need a good amount of force to separate the liquid. Fully pressed mash is about the consistency of cooked cornmeal, like a tamale.
- Optionally filter a second time through silk. Liner silk works.
- Transfer to a closed container, let settle, then decant and bottle.
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