My first batch of shoyu has been brewing for six months now and it's just hitting its stride. I've tended it faithfully, stirring at least once a week and skimming off harmless surface mold as it formed, but for the longest time it was barely more interesting than a pot of bean soup. It wasn't until the end of its fourth month that I noticed a marked difference as the mold quit and the moromi (solids) began congregating on the surface, concealing clear dark liquid beneath. When I stir it now, the aroma is intoxicating in the nuanced complex way of fermented things. Soon, I'll begin filtering small batches to mark its progress and though I don't yet know when it'll be done, I expect it to continue improving with time.
While I wait for the shoyu, there's a fresh batch of mirin to celebrate— and real mirin is a just cause for celebration. I'll restrain myself from a full-on rant about what passes for mirin in the commercial market; you have only to read the list of ingredients and if it begins with glucose and ends with corn syrup, you should wonder why you're being asked to pay four dollars for ten ounces of sugar water. Hon- mirin (true mirin) contains no added sugar, though it is remarkably sweet— the result of koji/rice saccharification. The aroma of hon-mirin is unlike anything else, fruity and floral with a delicate flavor that can be sipped like a fine sake*. In fact, I see great potential for hon-mirin in cocktails and as an alternative dessert wine/spirit. And, an unexpected perk of brewing mirin is the lees— a heady cream that is left after pressing the moromi and before filtering.
The celebration continues with hishio, a hybrid of mugi (barley) miso and lactic-fermented fruits and vegetables. Hishio is made entirely with barley koji that is fermented in water and salt for about a week before adding vegetables (asian pear, cucumber, and eggplant in mine) that are seperately fermented in salt. The loose, miso-type condiment is then fermented in a warm environment and is ready in four months.
In even less time, a lively yuzu kosho can be made in a just over a week at room temperature. This particular batch was made late last year, when piney green yuzu were still available. They were zested with a microplane and blended with the restrained heat of charred, minced shishito peppers and salt. After it fermented for eight days, I blended in the last of the kinome leaves just before my tree went dormant for the winter. I'm sad to see the bottom of my jar come into view as fresh yuzu won't be available again until the end of the year, but I'm equally gratefully for the bounty; a consequence of soil, bacteria, and patience.
hiramasa • mirin lees • yuzu kosho puree • strained hishio
* most mirin brewers add water to the rice, koji, and shochu to bring the finished alcohol down to about 14%. I used straight shochu (20%), no water, and can only assume that my mirin comes in at between 17%- 20% alcohol by volume.