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Newsletter Archive 2013

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Oct. 2013


  • Rice Woes
  • Events: Sake Professional Course in Japan and Las Vegas
  • Sake Tours for 2014
  • Sake Education Central

Top Story

Rice Woes

Sake Brewing begins this month! As it seems to almost every year in Japan, summer defiantly hung on until one day it almost instantly morphed into fall. I think that happened this morning. It is indeed a tumultuous period of time in everything from weather to politics. With fall tastings just finished, and Sake Day just beyond us, most brewers are just about now beginning their first batches. Diligent cleaning and disinfecting will be followed by starting the first batches and feeling out the year's rice. The hot summer is expected to make the rice harder than usual, and brewers will need to tweak it to coax out the flavors. Let us encourage them from afar.

Other upcoming news: I will hold the autumnal Sake Professional Course October 28 to 30 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Hang around after the course for Halloween in Vegas - that has to be fun. You can learn more below, or by sending me an email to that purport. There are still one or two seats open. In addition, the Japan-based Sake Professional Course is now open for registration. Learn more below. And... as a sneak announcement, I will be starting a sake-only English language magazine due out the middle of next month. Sake Today is what it will be called, and you can learn a bit more here, where you can also follow us via the usual suspects of social media. And please, as always, enjoy the newsletter - preferably with a glass of fresh sake! Warm regards, John Gauntner


Rice Woes
Of all the problems the sake industry faces – sake has dropped to eight percent of all alcohol consumed in Japan – a shortage of sake rice is not one that they need at this point in time. But it is one they must now deal with.

Several brewers I have spoken with have prefaced their comments about the coming year with," If we can get the rice. But I think we will be OK."

As most readers surely remember, sake rice is different from table rice in many ways, including size, higher starch content, lower fat/protein content, and a physical structure that places the starch in the center. That last point allows producers to mill it more and more, thereby grinding away more of the outside and remove more fat and protein, leaving only the starch behind. And sake rice costs much more too – as much as two to three times more than some table rice.

Table rice can, in fact, be used to make sake. But premium sake can be much more easily made to be wonderful when sake rice is used. Actually, perhaps 75 percent of all sake is not made using sake rice, but instead using table rice. Still, sake rice is indispensable to making great sake for sure. And sake rice is an official and separate classification, not just a nickname.

But recently, the government has been trying to reduce the number of fields on which rice is grown in an effort to stabilize the price of table rice on the market. As a part of that policy they have thrown sake rice in with table rice in terms support and subsidies for things like fertilizer and insecticides.

While that is all fine and good, the real truth of it all is that yields for table rice are much higher than sake rice. And if a farmer is going to get no more help on sake rice than table rice, there is a lot more money to be made on rice with higher yields per field. As such, most farmers then go for the most economically sound decision for themselves.

Certainly there are those that grow sake rice by direct, mutually agreed upon contracts. But the majority of it goes through the standard channels of agricultural co-ops.

So in the end, brewers are running into shortages of Yamada Nishiki and other sake rice types as a direct result of these policies. Note, too, that this goes against the current efforts of at least three government ministries that are trying hard to increase exports of sake around the world. Apparently, these policies are being reviewed in search of a solution.

As one concrete example, I ran into the toji of a kura from Yamaguchi Prefecture, the makers of Kahori-tsuru at a recent industry tasting. They, and another brewer down there whose sake I like, use a sake rice called Saito no Shizuku ("Droplets of the Western City") in some of their products. I am fond of it, and struck up a conversation with him that began with me expressing as much.

"Yeah, I like it too, and I like using it," be started off, "but I can't hardly get the stuff!" He continued to explain that, as great as it is to have a local sake rice that supports local economy and regionality, it was like pulling teeth to get a farmer to grow it.

"They have choices, of course, about what they grow. And the market price for this particular rice is the same as that for Gohyakumangoku (a popular eating rice), but the yields for Saito no Shizuku are significantly less, you see."

Again; we can surely understand the rice producer's point of view as well. But it continues.

"But then, 'course, there is the sake rice Yamada Nishiki. The yields for that are the same as Saito no Shizuku, but Yamada commands a much higher rice. So yeah, they'll grow that. But not my Saito no Shizuku," he lamented.

"Wow," I commented. "I did not know that."

"Yeah, neither did I!" he replied. "I realized I know far too little about how these things work, how they change, and how they will affect me."

That last line is the one that amazed me. The system is complex and constantly changes, and the motivations of the players change along with that. I am sure that everyone is doing what they feel is best for the greater good. But it is opaque enough to adversely affect sake brewers unexpectedly and directly.

* * * * * * * *

Sake Professional Course in Japan
January 20 to 24, 2014
The 2014 Sake Professional Course in Japan will be held from Monday, January 20 to Friday, January 24, 2014. This is it - the most comprehensive and intense sake educational program on the planet. Three days of class and tastings, sake pubs and izakaya at night, and two full days of sake brewery visits. No sake stone remains left unturned! Again - this is it! This is the course that started it all 11 years ago, for which I had a whopping three people the first year. Thanks to everyone's support and interest in sake, it is still the most interesting way to learn about sake in existence. Study during the day, drink sake at night, visit breweries as well. Meet owners and toji, taste sake at the breweries, immerse yourself in sake in every sense of the word - and get certified! The cost for the course is JPY 180,000 (about US$1800) and includes five days of instruction, sake and evening meals with sake. Lodging and transportation are not included. Please learn more here, or feel free to contact me directly.

Sake Professional Course
Las Vegas, Nevada, October 28 to 30, 2013
Now accepting reservations...

The next Sake Professional Course will take place October 28 to 30, at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. 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 Brewery Tours in Japan 2014
Here is the latest from Sake Tours

We are very excited to announce two new destinations in 2014 to Okayama (January 27th - 31st) and Niigata (February 17th – 21st). There's something special about these two destinations. The Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association is supporting part of the cost. They invite all sake enthusiasts to really experience Japan through sake with their help. This is a one-time opportunity you cannot miss!

Both tours are 5-day excursions into the world of sake brewing, drinking, and enjoyment, featuring an exclusive seminar by the greatest sake sensei. The contents of the tours feature sumptuous cuisine, luxurious yet quiet relaxing time at hot springs, and excursions to fantastic cultural highlights in areas seldom visited by foreigners.

Okayama January 27 - 31, 2014 (Monday-Friday)
Visit four sake brewers in the home of Omachi sake rice. The Okayama tour combines sake, food, and art with visits to beautiful classic towns. Some very memorable experiences you will find only with us are: a session with Omachi sake rice grower, hands on rice field plowing, private Kagura dance performance, private Shiki Hocho fish cutting knife ritual once performed only for the emperor, hands-on guinomi sake cup making experience with Bizen artists, observing art of sword making and more. On the last day, simply relax at the hot springs by the river far away from the city, in the snow.

Niigata, February 17 – 21, 2014 (Monday-Friday)
Niigata is known as the sake and rice capital. From over 90 breweries, you will visit four breweries who represent very distinctive traditions including Sado Island. In addition to a chance to interview sake brewers and rice growers, some special moments include: a private Geisha performance at dinner, a masterful tea ceremony, paring of Niigata sake at French restaurant, and hands on experience of Kodo Taiko drum. Of course, we'll have time to explore the distinctive cultural heritage of the area and to relax at hot springs.

Both tours are 270,000 JPY per person. With 50,000 JPY support from Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association, your cost is only 220,000 JPY. Please visit for tour information after September 15. Group size is limited to 12. Details are still being finalized for the Okayama and Niigata tours. For more details, contact Etsuko at

* * * * * * * *

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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