Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Wine that tastes good!

Having just made new yeast cakes, I put them to good use in a batch of millet wine and rice wine following the recipe I call YE1W1 and YE2W2, as they're the first and second wines (W1, W2) listed under the first exceptional yeast cakes (YE1).  They came out really good!

The recipe:

Millet or Rice Wine à la Yuán Púshè

This volume will fit in a 1 gallon wide-mouthed fermenter, barely.

Ingredients and Tools

  • ¼ cup powdered exceptional yeast cakes, about one cake.  But do measure.
  • 5.25 cups dry millet or 4.5 cups dry white sticky rice
  • Water
  • 1 gallon, wide-mouthed fermenter - cooked grain can’t go through a narrow mouth
  • Cheesecloth
  • Optionally, liner silk or some other filter fabric finer than your cheesecloth
  • Mortar and pestle


  1. Dry the yeast cakes completely and scrub them clean several times.
  2. Grate, and then grind the yeast cakes in a mortar.  Soak them in 1.25 cups water for three days until they start to bubble.  Add to your fermenter.
  3. Thoroughly rinse and then soak ¾ cups of dry grain in water overnight.  If using millet, polish it in a food processor first.
  4. If using millet,
    1. Steam the millet for 20 minutes, lining your steamer with cheesecloth.
    2. Spread the millet to cool.
    3. When cool, steam for another 20 minutes.  The millet should be fully cooked.
  5. If using rice,
    1. Steam the rice just until steam comes out of the steamer.
    2. Cover the rice with boiling water.
  6. Spread the grain to cool, and then add to the fermenter.
  7. Possibly add extra water, no more than just to cover the grain.
  8. The next day, repeat steps 3-8 with 1.25 cups of grain
  9. The next day, repeat steps 3-8 with 2.5 cups of grain
  10. If using millet, three days later repeat steps 3-8 with 300mL of grain.
  11. The mash will take a few weeks to ferment.  Wait until all the floating grains (“ants” in period) settle.  Transfer it into a cheesecloth or strainer bag and press it to extract the wine.  You can use your hands, or a board in a trough.  To use your hands, twist the bag and massage the mash.  Fully pressed mash is about the consistency of cooked cornmeal.
  12. Optionally filter a second time through densely-woven silk.
  13. Transfer to a closed container, let settle, and then decant and bottle.

This worked much better than in the past because I polished the millet, because I added enough water to let the millet ferment, and because I'm using wide-mouthed gallon jars which let me ferment on the grain for weeks.  This makes a huge difference.

I'm pretty sure I wasn't letting any of my past batches actually ferment to completion before pressing them, leaving them sour because a lot of the starch got left behind and not turned to sugar.

Commentators and poems about wine in period describe wine that isn't done yet as "muddy" or "pearly floating logs" or "floating ants."  This matches what happens at least in the rice wine very well:
Left: millet.  Right: rice.
The floating rice grains on the right are the logs or the ants, and there's a thin foam floating with them.

I would have liked to wait until it was fully settled, but Pennsic calls and I'm heading off.  So I pressed the wine, filtered it, put it back in the fermenter and chilled overnight to settle out what sediment I could, and then bottled it.
Left: millet.  Right: rice.
The rice pressed easily and filtering through silk wasn't awful.

The millet, not so much.  Again, I had to deal with a lot of small grain bits that gave it a pancake-batter feel, and fouled the silk repeatedly so I had to stop filtering and wash out my cloth.  I got 3 wine bottles worth of the rice wine, but only one of the millet.

No wonder millet fell out of favor!  I suspect that with more water and a longer fermentation the millet, too, might digest better and not be as hard to press.

Look at the color difference from the first time I made this same wine recipe with millet:
Some of this is because the first round of yeast cakes had some caramelization happen during curing that leaves some color, but I think that this is more due to the millet hulls leaving color.  With polishing, they're partially removed so they don't color the wine.

This stuff actually tastes really good.  Way, way better than older batches.

Tasting Notes

As always, these are subjective.

Millet Wine


Nearly white, with a pearly cloudiness.  Will probably clarify more as it sits.


Mostly soured grain notes with some nuttiness and a bit of alcohol.


Lightly sour but not overly so.  Balanced with a faint sweetness and a medium-light mouthfeel.


Nutty, sake-like aroma.

Rice Wine


White with a milkly cloudiness.  Also will probably clarify more.


Pears!  Some alcoholic notes and a hint of grain.


Lightly sweet, just a hint of acidity on the swallow, and a bit of a burn.  Medium body


Pear notes again, mixed with some sake character.

I really like the rice wine.  Catch me at Pennsic for a taste!  My class is Tuesday at 2:00 in A&S 12.

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New Yeast Cakes

My first batch of yeast cakes is running out, and I think they had some process issues, so I wanted to make a new batch.

I decided to try the second yeast cake recipe:

YE2 又造神麴法:Another method for making exceptional yeast cakes

Take equal quantities of steamed, stir-fried and fresh wheat, and join them as in the previous recipe, but without the north-south cross, the offering of alcohol and dried fruit/meat, the cooked noodles, offering to the “yeast cake king” or having children shape the cakes.
Prepare the three kinds of wheat as before, join them and finely grind them.  On the third day of the seventh month, make the yeast cakes.  Wet them so they are “firm [more water than “just add a little”].”  Pound the mixture until it is evenly mixed and fine.  Make it into cakes using a round iron mold, 5 thumb-joints across, and one and half thumb-joints thick.  On top of a level board, have a strong person really stomp on it.  Use a peg to pierce a hole in the middle of the cake.
Clean and sweep a room with an east-facing door, and spread the cakes over the floor.  Block the windows and doors, using mud to seal any cracks, so as to not allow wind to enter.  Flip the cakes after seven full days.  After a second seven days, gather them, and both times re-seal the room.  After a third seven days, take them out, and air them in the sun until dry.  The cakes are finished.
Whenever you please, hang the cakes for storage in a high, dry place.  These cakes do not keep if stored in a weng.  Cakes that are stored in a weng turn black and vile, and around the hole they will be black and rotten.  If you want to have people help you, you must at least make sure that the three types of grain are equal, and don’t let three dan of grain be a limit.
One dou of these yeast cakes can ferment three dan [thirty dou] of grain, while one dou of common yeast cakes can ferment six dou of grain: whether use a little or a lot decidedly depends on this.  Use Qixi burnt wheat yeast cakes or spring wine yeast cakes like common yeast cakes.

This is nearly identical to the first one, but presses the molds into cakes.  I used a cheese press I had lying around.
Mixing the three kinds of grain in a food processor.


I'm using this metal tray, and using sushi rolling mats to keep the bottoms from getting too damp.

Flipped after a week.

Gathered after another week


These are a little grosser than the first ones.  I scrub them before using, since the recipes say to, and it seems to make sense.

Grating it on a box grater reveals the inside.

Brushing these gave me a mild allergy attack, so I'm going to do it outside from now on.

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"Boiled" Millet Wine

I brought one new wine to King and Queens Arts and Sciences : a "boiled" millet wine.  This is the first wine for the second "...