In the Far East, rice has been used to make alcohol for thousands of years. In the West, an abundance of wheat and barley means that rice has been largely ignored.
In recent years, the price of rice has dropped so drastically that distillers all over the world have begun to pay closer attention.
It’s easier to make extra neutral alcohol (ENA) from rice than from any other crop. It’s also a higher quality of ENA, completely colorless and odorless, with a typical ABV of over 95% and only a trace of flavor – a profile that makes it the ideal base for a vodka.
In this article, we will take a look at two of the world’s best rice vodka brands Ukiyo and The Noble Experiment, as well as look at how they are made.
Ukiyo or The Noble Experiment?
Ukiyo is a Japanese vodka. Sake and vodka are not the same things. Sake is closer to a beer: it’s brewed from rice mash, not distilled, so its alcohol content is much, much lower.
The word ‘ukiyo’ means ‘the floating world’. It implies living in the moment, detached from the trials and tribulations of everyday life.
Made in South Africa, a country fabled for the quality of its wines and brandies, The Noble Experiment is the pet project of Riana Macdougall, 2020 winner of the Woman Distiller of the Year award at the SA Women’s Wine and Spirit Awards expo.
How Are They Made?
Ukiyo is made from long-grain Indica rice. Once the mash has been fermented, it is inoculated with black kōji, a mold that’s used in the manufacture of sake, shōchū, soy sauce, and miso to kill bacteria.
This is distilled into Awamoria, traditional Japanese alcohol then distilled again into vodka.
The Noble Experiment’s fermented rice mash is distilled into vodka in Bella, Riana’s hybrid still.
What Are They Made Of?
Ukiyo’s rice is grown on the island of Okinawa. The Noble Experiment’s rice is a local South African variety.
How Are They Similar?
Both are exceptionally smooth luxury vodkas.
Ukiyo has an ABV of 40%. The Noble Experiment has an ABV of 43%.
Both vodkas are completely clear and colorless.
While the average price of Ukiyo is $30, The Noble Experiment goes for $25 for 750ml. (Bear in mind that Uyiko has a lot further to travel.)
Taste & Flavor
Ukiyo has the tang of yuzu, a bumpy little orange that’s a hybrid of the mandarin orange, and a citrus fruit called papeda.
The Noble Experiment is smooth and polished with a silky finish. Its flavor is as subtle and distinctive as its aroma, with traces of vanilla, citrus, and sweetgrass.
|The Noble Experiment
|Johannesburg, South Africa
|Rice, black kōji
|Citrus and vanilla
|Citrus, vanilla, sweetgrass
|Price (per 750ml)
How Are They Consumed?
Both of these vodkas go well with soda or tonic water. They can also be enjoyed neat and ice-cold.
Here are some recipes to follow:
- Fill a glass with ice.
- Add two parts vodka and top up with four parts chilled soda water.
- Stir well and garnish with a slice of lemon peel.
(The word ‘haku’ means ‘white’. Its root is ‘hakumai’, Japanese for ‘white rice’.
- Fill a glass with ice.
- Add two parts cold vodka and three parts chilled orange juice. (It’s that easy!)
- Decorate the rim of the glass with orange wedges.
You might want to make this in a jug.
- Fill it halfway with ice.
- Pour three ounces of vodka and a pint of tomato juice over the ice.
- Add a tablespoon of lemon juice, a bit of Worcestershire Sauce and a bit of Tabasco Sauce (not too much of either!), a pinch of celery salt, and a pinch of pepper.
- Stir until the jug feels cold. Strain into tall glasses, top up with ice, add a stick of celery and a slice of lemon and you’re done!
Alternatives to Ukiyo
These vodkas bring something new to the table, an extra ingredient. Both have a 40% ABV. Both are contenders in their own right:
Japanese, even though it’s made on Long Island in New York! Made from white rice mash filtered through bamboo charcoal.
Bamboo is everywhere in Japan, where bamboo charcoal is still used to filter water. Because of its uniquely porous nature, it is supposed to remove more impurities than any other charcoal. It’s also mineral-rich, imparting flavor to the water and making it smoother.
Haku goes for $31 for 750ml.
Founded by the Fruge brothers of Acadia Parish in South Louisiana, this is a family of dedicated rice farmers since 1896.
Also the owners of Fruge Aquafarms and Fruge Seafood, the brothers are very much invested in new and unique farming opportunities. The vodka is named after their great-great-uncle, John Meleck.
Their mash is a mixture of rice, water, yeast, and malt meal.
JT Melech sells for $22 for 750ml. It has an ABV of 40%.
Alternatives to The Noble Experiment
Although they’re Japanese, these two vodkas have a big something in common with their South African counterpart: they’re made with one ingredient:
Made in Japan from indigenous white rice and water from the island of Kyushu, the word ‘ao’ is used to refer to the shades of blue and green found in nature.
$44 for 750ml with an ABV of 40%.
‘Kissui’ means ‘pure’ in Japanese. It’s made from rice and spring water from Kyoto’s Fushimi district – famous for its softness – and distilled twelve times using Super-Allospas, an extended, amplified form of continuous distillation.
Kissui sells for $25 for 750ml.
Rice Vodka Brands – FAQs
Is The Noble Experiment readily available?
This vodka is made in batches so, no, unless you happen to live in Johannesburg, South Africa. You can reserve a couple of bottles with advance payment by emailing Riana or calling her mobile, contact details on The Noble Experiment website.
Is Uyiko readily available?
Uyiko is available, depending on where you live. You won’t find it in supermarkets or on the shelves in your corner liquor store, but it’s carried by specialty distributors in most major cities.
Which one is stronger?
At 43%, The Noble Experiment is the stronger of the two.