If you’re wondering what Seoktanju (석탄주) tastes like, look no further than the modern-day expert, Midam Brewery. I was fortunate enough to meet Mrs. Midam and try her brews at the 2016 Wines & Spirits Expo. As she poured me a cup of her delicious Songhwa Takju, I timidly said that I was brewing Seoktanju. She asked me how it was coming along, to which I very ignorantly replied, “Great!” Everything was, in fact, not coming along great: I would soon find out that my brew had been infiltrated by my nemesis, pichia yeast.
(To be continued…)
According to my recipe book The Story of Traditional Alcohol Brewed from Our Rice (TSOTABFOR), Seoktanju “has such a wonderful flavor and fragrance that swallowing it would almost be a waste. In older texts, Seoktanju has also been called Seongtanhyang (성탄향), Seoktanhyang (석탄향), and Seoktanhyangbang (석탄향방). Seoktanju has the same recipe as Hwanggeumju (황금주), which originated in the Silla Dynasty. Jinsangju (진상주), a type of fermented alcohol found in the Joseon-era recipe book Soowoonjapbang (수운잡방), has the same recipe for Seoktanju but uses a different amount of nuruk.”
Here are the proportional measurements; adjust at will!
|100g non-glutinous rice (mitsul)||82g ground nuruk (mitsul)|
|1036mL water (mitsul)||6 g yeast (mitsul)|
|1000g glutinous rice (deotsul)|
Primary Fermentation, or Mitsul (밑술):
- Wash the non-glutinous rice, or mepssal (맵쌀), and soak for 3-4 hours.
- Drain for a minimum of 30 minutes.
- Grind and sift the mepssal into a pot.
- Add a partial amount of water to the pot. (Make sure when you are adding water to add it in small quantities so that you can avoid clumping.)
- Bring to a gentle boil and stir constantly until you have a thick porridge, or jook (죽).
- Cool the porridge.
- Add the porridge to water, nuruk, and yeast.
Secondary Fermentation, or Deotsul (덧술):
*Start 2-3 days after mitsul is underway.
- Wash the glutinous rice, or chapssal (찹쌀), and soak for 6-8 hours.
- Drain for a minimum of 30 minutes.
- Make steamed rice, or godubap (고두밥).
- Cool it and add it to the mitsul.
Now, back to my ill-fated Seoktanju: By day 5, I realized the pichia had taken hold. That tell-tale smell—best compared to the scent of acetone—was wafting out of the hangari. A small sip left no question that my worst fears were true.
So, in situations like this, the Susubori people advise that you stir your brew vigorously, day and night, until the smell goes away. As pichia is a top-forming yeast, the idea is that you can smother it with the yeast already in your brew. In the two or three experiences in which I’ve battled pichia, this technique has never been successful, and this time was no different. I stirred that mother vigorously four days in a row and I kept losing ground to the pichia.
On Day 9, I made my last stand: I bombed the pichia with 4 more grams of champagne yeast. With a bit more stirring, I noticed that the acetone scent was slowly retreating. But it never completely disappeared.
My two takeaways:
- Smell your brew daily and don’t be afraid to taste it either.
- If you think your brew has pichia yeast in it, stir it and consider adding (more) yeast. I might even try adding more nuruk as well.
I’ll have to give Seoktanju another go as the pichia proved to be indomitable. Despite straining and fridging my brew, I had to dump 4.5L of wasted money, effort, and time. So the kids will understand: Hashtag Brewer’s Heartache.
Total: 16 days
· 300g mepssal
· 246g nuruk
· 4g yeast
· 3109ml water
· 3000g chapssal
|Amount Produced:||· 4.5 L (approx.)|
|Notes:||· Making Day: Activated nuruk & yeast (10:30 am)
o 509 ml water + 4 g yeast + 246 g nuruk
o Added juk to activated nuruk & yeast (4:30 pm)
· Making the juk was much more difficult than last time. I added 200 ml of water at a time and ended up with a difficult clumpy mess. Next time, add less water more slowly. Used 1500 ml of water to make juk.
· Day 2: Had to add the deotsul today as I wouldn’t have time to do it otherwise in the next two days. Typically, it seems it’s fine if you do it anytime within a 48-72 hour period; I guess I would just like to give the mitsul as much time as possible.
· Day 5: Noticed an acetone-like scent. Taste was also off-putting. Have to do several days of stirring to see if I can kill off pichia yeast before it gets worse.
· Day 9: Can’t seem to shake the pichia. Decided to experiment with adding 4 g of yeast.
|Results:||· Pichia yeast got in and, despite constant stirring for around eight days, I couldn’t get rid of it. The 4 g of yeast did seem to diminish the pichia but did not completely kill it. Still, that’s something to remember in the future. Perhaps adding yeast in when I first noticed the pichia would have solved the problem. Anyway, my first go at 석탄주 had to be dumped.|