The art of turning rice glue into a beautiful vodka

Spiritz The Noble Experiment

The first rice-based vodka in South Africa was recently launched by Riana MacDougall, owner and distiller at Gauteng-based The Noble Experiment. It was a sticky, gooey road to success…

Riana’s fascination with making a spirit from rice started four years ago, “when the distillery was still only a dream,” she says. “The idea of working with a grain that is used extensively for alcohol manufacturing in Japan and across Asia, intrigued me. I knew that fermenting a grain that has been de-husked, would yield a very pure tasting spirit. Not realising the complexities of working with such a grain and the limited amount of information on the mashing and fermentation process that was available, the journey of trail and error began in earnest. 

I knew that fermenting a grain that has been de-husked, would yield a very pure tasting spirit.

“At the outset it was found to be an extremely difficult grain to work with – many a mash ended up as a ‘pot of glue’! Systematically different methods of pre-fermentation preparation were tried and then combined with different methods of mashing… it took three years of manufacturing ‘glue’ before we had a break-through and managed to perfect the process.”

Once the fermentation had been sorted out and the production yields were in line with industrial standards, the next step was to make sure that we treated the fermentation with respect and ensure we distilled it with care, she says.

The team decided not to opt for a full vodka run straight off the fermentation, but to do a stripping rum first and extract the alcohol off the fermentation. From that, a second distillation was run through the multi-plate column, rectifying the low wines to ultimately produce a beautiful vodka.

Texture – an element worth paying attention to!

“To touch on the element of the texture of this vodka – especially for those enjoying it neat – it’s remarkable and therefore worth special consideration. What’s happening on the palate (the mouthfeel) is a direct result of the care and little secrets we have in treating and respecting this noble alcohol!”

The first batch of The Nobel Experiment Rice Vodka was distilled and bottled in February 2021.

Riana Macdougall