Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Sichuan Homebrew

I've got a nice little buzz going as I write this post (and others) because tonight my Saturday project came to fruition.

Ever since I first saw the recipe for fermented glutinous rice wine in Fuschia Dunlop's Land of Plenty, I knew I wanted to make it. The ingredients were a deceptively simple duo: 1 1/4 cup of long-grain glutinous rice and a wine yeast ball. Cook the rice, sprinkle on the ground-up yeast ball and store in an earthenware jar for three days.

"That's it? Of course I can make that!" I said to myself when I first opened Land of Plenty. It was easier said then done, because beyond the earthenware jar I picked up for 10 dollars, the other two ingredients proved difficult to locate.

First, "long grain" glutinous rice appeared to not exist after checking bag after bag of different types of rice in multiple grocery stores across Manhattan and Flushing Chinatowns. I saw glutinous rice, sweet glutinous rice and short-grain glutinous rice. The internet was no help, with some recipes calling for short grain rice, basamati or jasmine. I was annoyed, so I just said fuck it and bought plain old glutinous rice, figuring it was close enough.

OK, so I'm 50% percent there. Yet the wine yeast ball was even more of a pain in the ass to locate. An internet search showed that it looked like a white, chalky lollipop, but scouring aisles of Chinese grocery stores turned up nothing.

Finally, Steve came to my aid, proving he's not completely worthless. He appealed to his girlfriend's mom to pick me up some yeast balls. Apparently she laughed at him and asked why I would want to make wine. Here's what she got me:

Mission accomplished. You take the yeast ball and grind it up like so:

Cook the rice till soft and spread it out to cool before covering the lukewarm rice in the crushed yeast (I made a double batch).

All that's left is to put it in the jar and wait three days.

Tonight, The Quaker and I opened the jar to celebrate our first home-brew. To test my wine, I bought a jar of glutinous rice wine for comparison.

Here are the two side-by-side, mine is on the right.

The commercial brand was not bad, just very sweet (and cold from the refrigerator). Mine was a little cloudier, mild, but still sweet. Oddly enough, the flavor is very much like green grapes and tasted like a milder version of Manischewitz. The rice itself had the texture of a wet paper towel or a chunky paper mache. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as there is still a slight bite to the rice, which had sweetened immensely over the past three days. Even more surprising was the alcohol content, which tasted like it was around 7-8% (apparently it will max out at 22%). Frankly, I was shocked at how much I liked the wine.

I made mapo tofu for dinner and ate the wine as dessert. Three glasses. The rest (about three cups of wine and rice mixture), is in the fridge.

I tried to feed some to Murray, but he wasn't having it.


  1. Good work. Where did mom end up getting the rice balls?

  2. I'm not 100% sure where she got them... some Chinese grocery in Brooklyn. I asked The DAsian,and he's going to look into it, but they're apparently easy to find if you know where to look.

  3. I would love to know where to get them as well - spent all yesterday searching in Manhattan to no avail!

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  5. Do you know how long the dry yeast balls can be stored? I found an unopened bag after the move. Thanks for the recipe...going to try making this next week.