Wednesday, November 17, 2010

John Gauntner's Sake Professional Course

~~~  It's Official!   ~~~

I am a Certified Sake Specialist.  

I completed John Gauntner's Sake Professional Course and passed the optional exam following the course.

The 3 day course delves far beyond basic "sake 101" type knowledge into the nuances of the history of sake, sake grades, and types of sake, the finer points of sake brewing, as well as sake and food pairing.  The list goes on but you get the idea.  John confidently states, "... this course is intended to cover it all, to leave no stone unturned."  John delivered the "sake goods" as it were.  More info on John Gauntner, his sake professional courses, and more sake centric information can be found at

As an added bonus to the course we were able to tour and taste sake at the SakeOne brewery. This gave our class that opportunity to see first hand how the beverage we know and love is made - step by step.

Water filtration system

Large quantities of rice
Rice milling machine

Rice steamer
Koji room

Early fermentation

Later fermentation


To say that I enjoyed the course is an understatement.

Thank you John!

Thanks SakeOne!


Post exam celebration

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Niigata Sake Selection

Yesterday I attended the Niigata Sake Selections tasting event at Gonpachi Bevelry Hills.  After following a link in a Yelp newsletter I stumbled upon a posting for this sake event.  I being the sake enthusiast that I am couldn't let this great opportunity pass me by.

Niigata Sake Selections was started in 2004 to promote the concept of regionality in sake (similar to that of wines). From discussions at the event I learned that the current series of tastings was held in New York, Dallas, Los Angeles and San Francisco. There were 11 breweries in attendance showcasing 21 sakes.

Below are my favorites from the event:

Ichishima ShuzoKaren "Coy" Tokubetsu-Junmai - This sake was a great surprise.  It's full of fun fruit flavors yet very light and not overly sweet. 
        Minogawa Shuzo: Koshino Omachi Daiginjo - I found this sake to be tangy, mildly sweet, and smooth from start to finish.

        Matsunoi Shuzo: Matsunoi "Wishing Well" Tokubetsu-Junmai - A harmony of crisp, clean and smooth with lots of character to boot.

        Aoki Shuzo: Kaku-Rei Junmai-Ginjo - Suttle notes of fruit, a hint of spice and a smooth clean finish.

        Obata ShuzoManotsuru "Four Diamonds" Daiginjo - A fragrant nose sets the tone of this mildly sweet sake with a touch of citrus that finishes clean and dry.


        Friday, October 1, 2010

        Happy Nihonshu no hi! (Happy Sake Day!)

        October 1st is Sake Day.  A day to celebrate all things sake.  To commemorate this special day I thought I would start this blog to share my sake experiences.  My most recent experience is as follows.

        Last week I attended the Joy Of Sake event in New York with several objectives in mind.  Some of which were more obvious than others.  I've been to a handful of Joy Of Sake events in Los Angeles and Hawaii and like the others this one did not disappoint.  There were well over 300 sakes available to sample at your leisure. To some that may seem like an alcoholics dream come true and for others a more nightmarish affair but for the majority it is simply an opportunity to taste and experience the great beverage that sake is.  I consider myself to be a responsible drinker with a decent tolerance. I would never consider undertaking an endeavor of consuming 300+ of anything alcohol based or otherwise.

        That being said, I chose to focus not on quantity but on a handful of selections from each of the main sake categories as they were presented at the event (Junmai, Ginjo, Daiginjo A, and Daiginjo B). To further reduce my selections in each field, I chose sakes that won awards from the U.S. National Sake Appraisal held in Honolulu in August of this year. I then sampled sakes that I haven't tried before. Of course there were a few exceptions where I revisited a few favorites. Some sake can be hard to find therefore I indulged.
        When I taste a new sake I first smell it to try to find clues of how the sake will taste. I then drink a small amount to get an initial, but not complete, sense of how the sake tastes. Portion wise I drink just enough to cover my entire tongue. I do this to clear my palate. I immediately follow that with a slightly larger amount. During both samples I take mental notes of how the sake tastes initially, midway and through it's finish. I'm asking myself, do I like it? Is there anything I don't like about this sake? I jot down some quick notes to help me remember the sake. I then move on to the next.

        The evening held numerous great discoveries as well as a couple of not so great experiences. Tops on my list (in no certain order) were:
        • Chokai Daiginjo by Tenju Shuzo: I enjoyed this sake so much that all I wrote for notes was, "Fav new sake"
        • Five Seasons Rice Wine by Midorikawa Shuzo: For this I wrote only one word, "Buy"
        • Tenzan Junmai by Tenzan Shuzo: I wrote, "Smell -> Taste, mild spice". The aroma was soft and pleasantly sweet. The initial taste was exactly that! Midway through mild spicy notes kicked in.
        A sake also worthy of mention was Momokawa Ruby by Sake One Corporation: I wrote, "Grabs you! Unique. Stands out - clean".  This sake truly shocked my palate. Like a sucker punch, I didn't see this one coming. It's smell did nothing to warn me either. Shocking I know...  In the end I thought this sake to be just OK. Perhaps I was in shock. I'm already preparing for round 2.  Until we meet again Momokawa.

        I consider myself a sake enthusiast with a thirst of not only consumption but even more so to learn and experience all that sake has to offer.  At sake tasting events I try to mingle with everyone I possibly can. I gotta say, New Yorkers take the cake. I said hello to a staff member tending one of the sake tables and his response was, "I don't know anything about sake. I just like drinking it."  Fair enough, I guess a simple hello goes a long way in the big apple. A short while later I was in conversation with a representative from Masumi (Miyasaka Sake Brewing Company) when a guest intervened to ask a question about the impact of World War II on sake production. Now as an American of non Japanese descent I feel that my knowledge of sake is well above average. But this guy? Really!  A brief exchange ensued between the representative and the guy and he departed. The representative knew him well and confirmed that he was quite well versed in sake.

        I grasshopper have a long way to go apparently...