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Aug. 2013


  • Second Guessing Rice
  • Sake Tours 2014: Lots of 'em
  • The Birth of Sake: a documentary film
  • Events: Sake Professional Course in Dallas 2013
  • Sake Education Central

Top Story

Second Guessing Rice

In Japan, as well as in the US – at least where I have been spending this summer – it has had its hot, hot days but interspersed with some unseasonably cool ones as well that provided some much-welcomed respite. Add to that a glass of tempering summer ginjo, light and a bit lower in alcohol, and it all seems much, much more bearable. As this goes out, I am gearing up for the first Sake Professional Course in Texas, August 8 to 10. just before TEXSOM. There are, actually, about two (count 'em!) seats still open should you feel the requisite spontaneity and interest. More can be read below. Also check out news on a budding film on sake production, more sake tours for you in Japan, and other sake-related oddz-n-endz below. Enjoy the newsletter, and get yerself a glass of that summer ginjo while you still can justify it. Warm regards, John Gauntner


Second Guessing Rice
Kanagawa, just below Tokyo, is not exactly a hotbed of hot brewers. Sure, there is good sake from amongst the prefecture's comparatively scant 16 kura. But it is not a region most sake fans would gravitate toward when it comes to selecting recently hip sake. Then there is Tensei.

Tensei is made by Kumazawa Shuzo, a great example of what fresh, new, youthful thinking that is decidedly out of the box can do in turning around one company – and by extension – the industry.

Their story is a long-ish one, and best saved for its own limelight. But in order to inch our way back to the topic here, one of the ways Tensei got back on track was to start a club, a simple pre-sale of a tank of sake.

Those of us that have over the past 20 years supported Tensei will pay a modest sum for three bottles of sake. But we pay in advance, and give the toji total freedom to pull out all the stops. He will use the best rice, yeast and methods he can. And it usually goes very well. But since we have supported him by paying in advance, if it falls short, we have supported him with a lesson learned.

Most years it is great. But last year, i.e. the three bottles I got in June of 2012, were decidedly thinner, and the aromas were laced with what is called ethyl caproate, giving it a bit of apple but underpinned by a bitter layer. OK, fine, I thought. If he does not push the envelope once in a while, he will not get better.

And I drank 'em. All three. They were fine, if not the rockin' and interesting stuff I have come to expect from Tensei. I usually drink their junmai ginjo, and that has remained steady and unchanged, so no real problem.

And then came this year. I had subconsciously lowered my expectations for the club stuff. And when it arrived, I gave it the fair shot, full professional concentration applied. And, boy, did it rock. I mean, outstanding. "Hodo hodo" is the term in Japanese; just enough, but not too much. Just enough umami, maturity, breadth, aroma… I really found it great.

And as such wasted no time in emailing the toji to let him know as much. I simply expressed how balanced it was, compared to last year. He responded almost immediately.

Last year," he began, "based on our initial findings, we expected the rice to dissolve quickly and thoroughly." Each year, sake brewers begin the season with lower grades, partly to feel out the year's rice. How did weather affect things? Will it dissolve quickly, leading to full flavors, or out-of-control rough ones if not reined in? Or will it resist dissolving, be hard, which could lead to not enough flavor and an overall tight profile unless coaxed into dissolving via higher moisture content and other methods.

"And so," he continued, "we treated it as such, keeping the moisture in check so as to eliminate any overbearing or sloppy flavors in the final product. However, when we got to our top daiginjo, the rice did not cooperate. Hence the narrow flavor profile." And this is why sake brewing is so challenging and interesting. One can have reams of data, but if the fickle micro-organisms and other elements do not feel like going along with that data, the result may go off on a tangent. Textbooks alone will simply not cut it.

"This year, he added, "it behaved as we expected, and everything worked like a charm. Hence the great balance, ideal level of fullness and umami, and as-predicted maturity."

"Be sure," he concluded, "to save one for at least six month. The real umami and richness will become even more apparent!" And so I will.

I think that rice is not considered to change much from year to year, when it fact, it does vary hugely. And these variations do have an effect on the final product from year to year. However, so much manhandling of the raw materials takes place after harvest that good craftsmen can and do smooth out these differences in favor of the year-to-year consistence that is, in fact, their goal.

Interestingly, most brewers cover these year-to-year changes on the fly. The sake in which they are most evident are sake from impossibly tiny brewers (which the brewery that makes Tensei is not) and one-off sake such as this club sake, or contest sake. It is harder to blend differences into oblivion, or tweak them away when working with little else to use in blending, or sake that changes from year to year.

Rice is awfully hard to second guess. Yes, it varies. And yes, good brewers can work with that variation. But no, it cannot be done based on rules or textbooks, at least not as well as it can be done via experience and intuition.


Sake Brewery Tours 2014: Lots of 'em
Nothing can ever replace visiting sake breweries. Of all the sake-related activities – bar none – visiting some of the 1300 or so sake breweries out there is the most enjoyable, most educational, and most edifying experiences I can have. Now, you can too! Sake Brewery Tours will be leading two tours again this coming brewing season, February and March, 2014. I will be accompanying the group in a supportive educational role. The tours will go to Akita, February 24 to 28, and to the Kansai region, March 3 to March 7. Learn more here.

But wait! There's more! Sake Brewery Tours Sneak Preview. Readers of the newsletter may already be familiar with the ultimate sake tours to Japan operated by Sake Brewery Tours, of which the above-described tours are a part. They have been running for four years now, and continue to grow in popularity. And, in 2014, in addition to the two destinations described above - snow Akita and the ancient capitals in Kansai - a brand new destination is expected to be included as well. We can't tell you the details yet, but the Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association is behind the upcoming tour and they will support part of your tour cost. So, in early 2014 travel, you'll be able to take advantage of the special offer and join this fun and educational sake and food excursion. For more details, send an email to and visit

* * * * * * * *

The Birth of Sake - a Sake Documentary!
The power of proper media can be truly amazing. And surely, that is the one thing the sake world lacks – a good dose of regular media infusion. If only more people knew the amazing focus and energy that goes into the brewing of sake, surely its popularity and availability would skyrocket. Well, one such chance has just presented itself. A documentary film about the craft of brewing sake is in the works! Like all such outstanding ideas, support is indispensible. And you can learn more and support it yourself – both financially and otherwise – by going to the site below and learning more. View the trailer and find out more about the campaign here.

And follow their progress through the usual suspects of social media:

And from the Birth of Sake website: The Birth of Sake is a documentary film about the workers and production seasons at Tedorigawa, a fifth-generation, family-owned sake brewery in Ishikawa, Japan. The film will give viewers a rare look into an intense atmosphere of a working sake brewery. The small team of brewers is made up mostly of migrant farmers who grow rice in the summers and return to the brewery in late October to begin an intense six-month period of sake production. Be sure to check it out and support it however you can!


Sake Professional Course
Dallas, Texas, August 8~10, 2013

The next Sake Professional Course will take place May 8 to 10 in New York City at a private venue in the Murray Hill neighborhood of Manhattan. More about the seminar, its content and day-to-day schedule, can be found here. The Sake Professional Course, with Sake Education Council-recognized Certified Sake Professional certification testing, is by far the most intensive, immersing, comprehensive sake educational program in existence. The three-day seminar leaves "no sake stone unturned." The tuition for the course is $825. Feel free to contact me directly with any questions about the course, or to make a reservation.

* * * * * * * *

Sake Education Council
Please take a moment to check out the website for the Sake Education Council, the organization behind the Certified Sake Professional and Advanced Sake Professional certifications. We plan to grow steadily, strongly and continually, and we will need the support of all those that love sake to do so. Follow us through the "usual suspects" of social media.

Sake Homebrewer's Online Store
Please be sure to check out for supplies, information and a forum, including lots of supporting information on everything from recipes to history. I have been meaning to mention this site and the gentleman behind it, Will Auld, but have repeatedly forgotten in past newsletters. The site is replete with instruction, augmented with videos, schedules, and more. If you are even remotely interested check this site out right away.


For Your iPhone & iPod: The Sake Dictionary App.
Newly improved, now with audio, and drastically reduced in price to $0.99!
Get it here:

There you are, perusing a menu, or standing in front of a shelf of great sake, or perhaps reading a sake newsletter… and up pops one of those hairy, pesky sake terms in Japanese. You know you have heard it many times, but dammit, you just cannot remember what it means now…

No problem! Just whip out your iPhone or iPod and fire up your trusty old version of The Sake Dictionary. In a matter of seconds, you'll be amongst the cognoscenti once again. But… if only you could pronounce it properly. Now that would really rock!

Done! Just tap on the term and you will hear a clear example of how to pronounce the term in Japanese. Repeat it a couple of times and the term is yours for eternity, to toss about and impress your mates.

What's more, it's less! Less than what it cost before, much less. Like less than one-seventh less. For a limited time only, the audio-enhanced version of The Sake Dictionary iPhone app is available for a mere $0.99.

The Sake Dictionary is 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. And now, with the new audio component, you can listen and learn just how to pronounce those terms properly.

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 - or how to pronounce them - again.

Get it here:

(Note if you have already purchased it, this upgrade to the audio version is free. Just go to iTunes and get it!)      


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 2013

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