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Sake World Newsletter


Jan. 2011


Top Story

The Suffix "Shu"

GREETINGS. Happy New Year to all! Two-thousand-eleven is upon us. Amidst economic uncertainty, trudging through quagmires of the uncertainties of our modern world and times, I wish you all health, happiness and prosperity in the coming new year. Sake, too, faces its challenges. Despite sake's increasing popularity around the world, "we're not out of the woods yet." Not even close. The industry is still in the thick of it, and will remain there until domestic appreciation, consumption and understanding of all things sake returns to appropriate, critical-mass levels.
Let us all do our part, enjoying sake and all it offers - responsibly, of course! - and let our enthusiasm be contagious. The newsletter is slightly abbreviated this month to accommodate everyone's busy holiday schedule. The omitted features (Did You Know and Sake Basics) will return next month.

Finally, there are exactly three (count 'em!) seats available for the Sake Professional Course taking place this month from the 24th to the 28th. If interested, email me for details. Renewed wishes for a great 2011, John.


The Suffix "Shu"
The commonly seen suffix "shu" (written as ? on sake-related words, especially those related to grades, seems potentially confusing to some. As such, it is a -shu-in for the first topic of the year. Indeed, the -shu gets kicked around quite a bit, so it is time to put our foot down on it all.

Bad, bad puns notwithstanding, what is the truth behind all of this? Concretely speaking the various grades of sake are commonly seen in either one of two manifestations, for example junmai-shu or junmai, honjozo-shu or just honjozo, and ginjo-shu or just ginjo. Is there a difference? Is one more official? Is one more correct?

The shortest answer is no, there is no difference. And no, one is not more correct. Ginjo-shu and Ginjo are the same, as are honjozo-shu and honjozo, junmai-shu and junmai. The latter are just abbreviated versions of the former, the suffix being lopped off for simplicity.

What's up with all of that? Well, the character for sake, ? can also be read -shu. In fact, almost all kanji characters used in the Japanese language have two (or more) readings, one being used in standalone readings and one in combinations with other characters. So sake and -shu are the main two associated with our beloved ?ideogram.

The meaning of the character is, in general, "alcoholic beverages." So the word sake can mean both the rice-based brew of which we are so fond, but also - in the right context - alcoholic beverages in general. And it is included as a part of the grade names in order to give them relevance, i.e. junmai-shu is "pure rice sake," futsuu-shu is "regular sake," and honjozo-shu is "original brewing method sake." But when there is sufficient context, it becomes almost superfluous, if not a bit of a bother. (Sake drinkers are essentially a lazy lot, it would seem.)

So it has become - if not optional - commonly dropped in most classifications. Sometimes it is used, and sometimes it is not. It's nothing but a matter of ease and rhythm of pronunciation. And there is no rhyme or reason to it. So we might hear someone speak of a "ginjo-shu," then in the next breath talk about a "junmai-ginjo," and we sit there, waiting for the other -shu to drop. But, confusingly, it doesn't. Don't let it scare ya.

Wandering for a moment down a tangential path, the two official names for sake are seishu and nihonshu. Seishu means "refined sake," and nihonshu means "Japan sake." The name for the yeast starter, shubo, means "sake mother." That dang -shu character is everywhere. All the grades (futsuu-shu, junmai-shu, honjozo-shu, ginjo-shu, junmai ginjo-shu, daiginjo-shu and junmai daiginjo-shu) share that same suffix. While it invariably remains intact for the two official names (as well as the class futsuu-shu), all the other grades commonly appear in both manifestations.

Certainly, though, the longer forms are more official, being the legal terms used in official definitions. But in terms of everything else - what people actually say, and even what is written on labels - the terms are more or less interchangeable.

So in the end, just remember you do not have to use the -shu suffix. But you can if you like. So if the -shu fits, wear it.


Announcements and Events
Sake Professional Course 2011, Japan
January 24-28, 2011

"No sake stone remains left unturned."


It is my pleasure to announce the 8th annual Sake Professional Course to be held in Japan. This is it, folks: the most important thing I do all year, and far and away the best possible sake education in existence. Three days of lecture and tasting, each evening  capped off with dinner and fine sake, then two days spent visiting four sake breweries of different size and scale - punctuated again with fine sake and a great meal each evening. Of course, certification testing for a Certified Sake Professional is a part of the event.

Word travels fast, and as of today only three (3) spots remain. If you are interested, please send an email to me at right away. Feel free to ask any and all questions or make any inquiries about the course as well. To learn more about the schedule and details, check this out.

Trust me when I say - for sake education - it does not get any better than this. Alternatively you can see what others have said.


Sake Tours!
Please join us for a very special journey through the regional brewing and culinary traditions of Japan. Tour destinations are filled with moments you cannot experience otherwise. In 2011, we will return to San-in, the land of myth. And, we are adding a tour of the northern snow country of Akita for special breweries and onsen.

Meet and speak directly with artisans to appreciate their history, philosophy, and the art of brewing. Learn from the world's best sake educator, John Gaunter, and share the passion of brewers for their craft. Then, wind down at an onsen to relax, and simply have fun! Learn more at


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?erms, 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 1999-2011

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