The Traditional Method

Awamori,the Production Process
Awamori, the Production Process
Before the war, most awamori -making was done by hand, and the lack of machinery and other equipment made the process very hard work. However, the basic procedure has remains the same even today.
1:Steeping
Crushed Thai rice is steeped in water, without being washed. A small amount of liquid taken from a previous steeping, called shijiru, is added, making it easier for black koji mold to grow. The rice is steeped for 17-18 hours in the summer, and 22-23 hours in winter.
2:Washing
The rice is placed into bamboo strainers-called baki in the Okinawa dialect-and washed thoroughly with water.
3:Steaming
The washed rice is steamed in a steamer for about 60 to 90 minutes. During the process, the rice is placed in portions into a round, wooden tub called kushichi. Holes are made using a stick called chibiku, so that the rice is evenly steamed. The rice is mixed, and further crushed with a paddle called i-ze.
4:Mixing the koji mold (Majin)
The steamed rice is spread out on straw mats called nikubuku in a special koji room, and seed koji mold is mixed in thoroughly. The rice is finally heaped up and wrapped in the mats.
5:Cooling (Kachai)
When the temperature of the steamed rice rises to about 45 degrees Celsius after about 17 hours, it is spread and mixed again, so that it cools to about 37 degrees. The rice is again heaped up and wrapped up in the mats.
6:Spreading (Hirugahi)
When the rice has been allowed to sit for about two or three hours, its temperature rises again to about 41 to 42 degrees. The rice is then spread out three centimeters thick on the mats. This is called Hirugahi.
7:Shaping small mounds (Ti-mi)
After cooling off temporarily, the temperature of the rice again rises to about 37 to 38 degrees because of Hirugahi. Then the rice is heaped into small mounds about four to five centimeters high. This is called Ti-mi. The temperature should be kept under 40 degrees.
8:Sprouting (Ke-sun)
The seed koji mold sprouts on about the fifth day (fourth in the summer, seventh in winter) after being mixed into the rice. Koji mold that has grown black spores now covers the rice entirely. Koji with a bitter taste is said to be the best suited for awamori-making. A part of this mold is set aside as the seed koji mold for the next time.
9:Mash making
The koji rice and water is combined in a pot. The ratio of koji rice to water is about one to 1.3. Seed mash (0.5 to 1 sho in the summer and 2 to 3 sho in the winter) is then added to the mixture. Good seed mash set aside from the previous batch on the third or fourth day of fermentation should be used, and the temperature should always be kept under 30 degrees Celsius.
10:Fermentation
Paddles are used or the lid of the pot is uncovered from time to time to cool off the mash and adjust the fermentation. On the third and fourth day, when the fermentation is most active, it is stirred with a paddle twice a day-once in the morning and again in the late afternoon. Similar stirring is done once a day from then on. In the summer, water is sprinkled around the pot for cooling, and in the winter, straw or reeds are wrapped around the pot for warming. Mash can also be heated by placing a tin container with hot water in the pot.
11:Fermented mash
By the tenth day, the fermentation tapers off. Between the tenth and fourteenth days, the alcohol content from a good batch of mash is about 17-18%. It takes about 12-13 days for the mash to fully ferment in the summertime, and 22-23 days in the winter. The mash must be distilled immediately or the alcohol will evaporate and the awamori can become bitter or have an unpleasant smell.
12:Distilling
Traditionally, distilling was carried out in copper pot stills with a 108-126 liter capacity. A metal or wooden container was placed on the pot still, and a tin pipe ran from the top of the container to a cooling device. The tin pipe connecting the still and the coolant was called uma or watashi. When the mash is first distilled, the drops give off have an alcohol content of 70%. This strong liquor is called shoryu (first distillate) or hanazaki (flower awamori). As the distillation goes on, there is a gradual decrease in alcohol content. Awamori produced midway in the distillation is called churyu (middle distillate), and that produced at the end is called suedare (last drops) or masa (last distillate). Distilling a pot of mash takes about one hour.
13:Awamori
Some of the distilled liquor is kept as kusu, and the rest is marketed by measure. The awamori used to be shipped in special copper casks called Umadaru or Tu-tan.
14:Awamori lees and hot water
Awamori lees used to be used as fertilizer or as feed for pigs, which is why prewar awamori-makers used to own pig farms as a sideline. Some ran bathhouses, reusing the hot water produced by the cooling device.
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