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Sake World Newsletter


April 2010



Sake and Rice on the Same Table

Sake and Rice on the Same Table
In this newsletter, I do not cover sake and food pairing all that much. This is in spite of being aware of how much interest there is in this topic. I guess I do not avoid it, really, but rather find myself naturally leaning toward more technical stuff, topics that help clarify things for people, and recent happenings and trends in the world of sake.

And on top of that, sake and food pairing is neither rocket science nor an objective practice. Sake is very food friendly and pliable. But one thing we sometimes hear (oftentimes talk that originated in Japan) is that sake and rice do not go together. Debunking time!

When I have heard this over the years, I have always pressed for reasons behind it. Usually my inquisitions were met with a downward glance and a shrug, followed by a bit of head scratching. When, pressed, the answer was usually akin to, "Well, they are made from the same thing." At which point, I tended to back off.

"Because they are made from the same thing." Hmm. If that is a rule to live by, then beer and any form of bread are out. No hamburgers with those beers – you'd have to Atkins 'em to be properly paired.

The truth is that that is not the truth, the "made from the same thing" logic is not really what is behind the tendency of some folks to avoid putting rice and sake together on the same table.

The real reason is found more in the way that traditional meals are enjoyed, and even more so in the way that men (for better or for worse, until recently the main consumers of sake) ate and drank.

And that would be… nibble-nibble, sip-sip. Nibble-nibble, sip-sip. They sip sake along with small, salty and umami-laden snacks. A little of this, a little of that. Then, when it gets time to call it an evening, let's set the sake aside, we are done with that now. And bring on the rice, along with pickles and miso soup.

Note this is not limited to a sake sitch, either. Most traditional Japanese meals are enjoyed this way, with the rice, miso soup and pickles coming at the very end, after several other courses have been enjoyed. Of course, not all meals are like that, and things change over time as well. But this, more than anything else, is behind the "sake and rice don't go together" concept.

But wait, there's more! Sake can indeed go with rice. It all depends on how the rice is used and prepared, and what the sake is like. Admittedly, it is hard to pair anything with straight-up white rice, just like it is hard to pair anything with straight-up white bread. Impossible? No. Difficult? Yes. But in truth, no one eats bread - or rice - like that anyway.

To me, sake and sushi rock together, despite how easily beer lends itself to the situation as well. The rice used in sushi is both vinegared and sweetened, and surely that opens up the pairing potential. While that example is surely quite trite, it serves to demonstrate that sake and rice are very often enjoyed together in Japan these days.

Shinya Tasaki won the "World's Greatest Sommelier" Competition in 1995, the first Japanese to do so. He is eloquent and a skilled speaker, and as well as wine, he knows his sake very well. I tasted with him at a competition of sake made with Okayama Prefecture-grown Yamada Nishiki and Omachi rice last year, after which he gave a presentation on sake and food. The above diatribe was reflected in his presentation, but on top of that, he explained how - until recently - there was not much of a sake and food pairing culture in Japan. It was all about getting men to drink more, hence the salty and umami-laden nibbling culture. But that is changing, he pointed out, and changing fast.

And rice, the same stuff of which sake is made, deserves its place on the table with sake as much as anything else.     


The Sake Professional Course
San Francisco, CA, June 20, 21 and 22, 2010

The next Sake Professional Course will be held in San Francisco on June 20, 21 and 22, at the Bentley Reserve in San Francisco California. More information can be found here, and if you are already sure you want to be there, send an email to John. The content of this three-day intensive sake course will be identical to that of the Sake Professional Course held each January in Japan, excepting of course sake brewery tours. The course is geared toward industry professionals wishing to expand their horizons in a thorough manner into the world of sake, and will therefore necessarily be fairly technical in nature, and admittedly somewhat intense. But the course is open to anyone with an interest in sake, and it will certainly be fun!

The course lectures and tastings will begin with the utter basics and will thoroughly progress through and cover everything related to sake. There will be an emphasis on empirical experience, with plenty of exposure to a wide range of sake in the tasting sessions throughout the three days.

The goal of this course is that "no sake stone remains left unturned." Every conceivable sake-related topic will b covered, and each lecture will be complimented and augmented by a relevant tasting. Like its counterpart held in Japan each winter, it will be quite simply the most thorough English-language sake education in existence. Participants will also be presented with a certificate of completion at the end of the course, and will also have the opportunity to take an exam for Level I Sake Specialist certification immediately following the course. The cost for the three-day class, including all materials and all sake for tasting, is US$775.

Participation is limited, and reservations can be made now to secure a seat, with payment due by May 3, 2010. For a view of the syllabus, please see: Check out testimonials written by past participants here.           


Did you know?
All Brewers Make All Grades

As we wade through the many brands of sake out there and discover our preferences, we usually find those we gravitate toward. So we often talk about brand names, how good that is, how good this brand is… but what we really are referring to is particular products from amongst the lineup of that brewer.

I am often surprised to discover that many people do not realize that, for the most part, all sake brewers make all grades of sake. Obviously, this is not the case in the world of wine, but in the sake world, every producer makes at least one product in each grade, i.e. futsuu-shu, junmai-shu, honjozo, and all four ginjo types.

Are there exceptions? Of course there are. There are exceptions to everything in the sake world. Some brewers - not many - make no futsuu-shu. A handful - perhaps 15 or 20 - make only junmai styles. A couple even make only (junmai) ginjo or (junmai) daiginjo. And, of course, "variants" like yamahai, kimoto, namazake and koshu (aged) sake are not embraced by all either. But basically, almost all brewers make at least one product corresponding to each of the main grades of sake. So the next time you find yourself gravitating toward a brand, be sure to note just which product of theirs it is you like.


Sake Basics
What is futsuu-shu?

Futsuu-shu means "regular sake," and that is just what it is. In other words, it is sake that does not qualify for one of the six designations of "special designation sake", i.e. honjozo, junmai-shu, or one of the four ginjo types.

Futsuu-shu does not have a minimum rice milling requirement, can be made with more added alcohol than the special designation types, and can have a bit of organic acids or other flavor adjustments made to it.

And, in fact, futsuu-shu is about 75% of all sake made. Sure, it is run-of-the-mill. And while much of it is mundane at best, remember never to diss it until you have tasted it. Which is to say; there is actually quite a bit of very, very enjoyable futsuu-shu out there. (In fact, I always want to taste a brewer's futsuu-shu; it tells you much about them.) True, it is not "officially" premium, at least not based on the rules, but it can be very enjoyable.

Also, remember that there is "sake" that does not even qualify as futsuu-shu, i.e. stuff with way, way too much alcohol added, or made with broken rice crumblings or little to no koji (i.e. using liquefied rice and chemical enzymes). Even "regular" sake has standards that need to be met! So even for futsuu-shu, don't diss it 'till you taste it.     



For Your iPhone: The Sake Dictionary
Give the gift that keeps one drinking...only $6.99

Announcing the release of iPhone application version (if you have iTunes, the app will appear by clicking on that link) of The Sake Dictionary - available now. The content is the same as the "normal" Sake Dictionary (see immediately below, available for $8.99). Note the $2 savings for the iPhone app version!

The Sake Dictionary...only $8.99
Announcing The Sake Dictionary. Have you ever found yourself out and about at perhaps a retail shop or at a sushi bar, perusing the sake menu and wondering - or trying to recall - just what the dickens all those terms actually mean? Wouldn't it have been great to have a quick guide that fits in your pocket, pda, or phone that you could whip out to confirm a term or two? Well, here it is.

The Sake Dictionary is just that: A concise little package of all the terms you might ever come across when dealing with sake. Almost 200 of them - including sake grades, rice variety names, seasonal sake terms, special varieties, rare types, post-brewing processing words and the myriad terms used in sake production - many of which are not even familiar to the average Japanese person on the street - are listed up here with concise, useful and clear definitions and the written Japanese version as well.

Start to toss around Japanese sake terms like you were raised knowing them! Gain a level of familiarity hitherto unimaginable! Avoid frustrating paralysis when faced with a sake-related purchase!

Get your copy of The Sake Dictionary now and never be confused by sake terms again. So click here to purchase your copy of The Sake Dictionary and eliminate sake stress and get a permanent grip on those pesky terms, and start really enjoying your sake. Go here to get your copy now.


Japanese For Sake Lovers
A Guide to Proper Pronunciation

Here it is: something that ensures you will enjoy your sake experience more and more - a short, concise instructional guide on how to properly and naturally pronounce the Japanese language, sake brand names, and all the terminology that is a part of the sake world. With the help of this little course, you will sound like a native when talking about sake.

No more butchering sake names in Japanese!
Learn how to properly pronounce the sake you love!

Japanese for Sake Lovers consists of a short text and three audio files. It all begins with guide to the theory of pronouncing Japanese, which you will soon realize is surprisingly smple. Following that you have the opportunity to practice pronunciation of all the important terminology surrounding sake, and dozens of brand names that cement in your mind the principles, fundamentals, and idiosyncrasies of pronouncing Japanese. 

This is not a language text. You will not learn grammar or much vocabulary outside of sake-specific terms, although it does include a handful of phrases to help you navigate your way to sake bliss in Japanese when at a sake pub, augmented by three audio files that allow you to practice, repeating the words and phrases after a native speaker.

For the rest of the month of April, Japanese for Sake Lovers is being offered at an introductory price of $9.99, after which the price will be raised a smidgeon. Go here now to order your copy, and feel one step closer to the beverage you love – guaranteed.


Sake's Hidden Stories
I am very pleased to announce the publication of my new ebook, Sake's Hidden Stories, subtitled The Personalities, Philosophies, and Tricks-of-the-Trade Behind the Brew.

Sake's Hidden Stories ($14.99) will give you a view to what goes on in the sake industry behind the brew we all love so much. The book goes into stories much deeper than the information we most commonly encounter; way beyond simply what ginjo-shu is, what junmai-shu is, or what the role of koji is. You will learn about the personalities behind the sake. You will see in just how much detail some brewers make sake, and how each is different in where importance is placed. And most significantly, something that has not been written about in any book on sake in English, you will meet more than a dozen brewers, and encounter their personalities. You'll see what makes them tick, what drives them in their work, and how their histories and idiosyncrasies affect the sake they brew.

For more information on content and get your copy, go here.As with any ebook or informational product I offer, satisfaction is 100% guaranteed. If you don't like it or feel it was worth what you paid for it, I will cheerfully refund your money. Finally, for a nice third-party review of the book, check out this cool blog.


Sake Educational Products
Jump-start your sake savvy

Just a reminder to check out the Sake-World e-store, currently offering three educational products immediately downloadable for your education and further sake enjoyment. We offer three products, with more to come soon, including a full-blown, comprehensive self-study course covering all the material in the Sake Professional Course, and more.
First is The Sake Notebook, a 15-page pdf file guaranteed to jump-start your sake understanding and appreciation. It covers everything related to sake in a tight, concise and easily digestible presentation replete with plenty of photos and diagrams for at-a-glance enlightenment. Sake basics, history, grades and quality levels, aging, temperature, storage and more are all briefly touched upon to create a foundation upon which more sake learning can flourish. There is also a list of 250 (count 'em!) sake brands to look for and try. Finally, included with purchase is access to a password protected area on known as "The Goodstuff" a regularly updated list of good sake recommendations, replete with brief commentary on each, and some indication of John's personal recommendations and preferences. Available for $15.
Next is The Sake Production Slideshow, an executable file (Photojam) wherein resides a 15-minute slideshow of photos of the sake-brewing process from beginning to end, giving you a glimpse into the day-to-day brewing environment of sakagura in Japan. Available for $15. Also, access to "The Goodstuff" comes with this product as well.
Third is a bundled package of both The Sake Notebook and The Sake Production Slideshow for those that cannot make up their minds or simply have to have - or give - both as gifts. Available as a set for $25.
Surely these would make wonderful gifts for those close to you that are itching to get into good sake, and their easily downloadable digital format makes it all that much easier.    


More information on the following topics can be found at

  • Sake Homebrewing
  • Books on Sake
  • Information on the archives of this newsletter
  • General information related to this publication

Questions and comments should be directed to John Gauntner. Email John from this link:
All material Copyright, John Gauntner & Sake World Inc.

Copyright 1999 - 2010

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