Many times when I'm talking about sake with people, I get the impression that they are interested in sake, but feel intimidated by it. The labels can be intimidating when all you see is kanji, so you just buy something based on how pretty the label is. It can be intimidating if you are unfamiliar with terms like tokubetsu honjozo or junmai daiginjo. In the same way that you don't have to speak German to enjoy drinking a trockenbeerenauslese riesling, you don't have to speak Japanese to feel comfortable buying the perfect sake for your palate. If you have ever been curious about sake, whether you are already an enthusiast, an industry professional, or simply want to know more about sake, the answers await in John Gauntner's Sake Professional Course.
Mr. Gauntner has been an educator in all things sake for the western world. His Sake World website is the gateway to an enormous wealth of knowledge and resources. He also conducts advanced classes aimed at understanding sake production, sake culture, and most importantly, sake tasting. Mr. Gauntner is the only non-japanese Certified Master of Sake Tasting in the world. I had the honor of taking his three day intensive Sake Professional Course in Portland earlier this month. As someone who has been studying sake for over a decade, I still left this class with a greater depth of understanding on all things sake.
The course is comprehensive, and covers all the basics of brewing methods, terminology, business, tasting and pairing with foods. His knowledge of the industry extends deep into the sakagura, the kurabito, and the business of buying, selling and tasting this special beverage. The greatest advantage of taking his Sake Professional Course is in his astute selection of vertical tastings. A lecture about rice varietals is followed by a tasting of several sake brewed with different rice, a lecture about yeast and its impact on aroma is followed by a tasting of sake with different yeasts. If you wondered about the difference in flavor between pasteurized and unpasteurized sake, you can taste them side by side and draw your own conclusions. All the books and articles in the world will never add up to the knowledge of tasting the sake in your ochoko and knowing why it tastes that way. This class is definitely worth the time and money, and as John likes to say, leaves no sake stone unturned.
A Small Footnote with a Large Imprint
There are two men who have been outstanding educators of sake for the western world. Ironically, both of these men, John Gauntner and Philip Harper, arrived in Japan independently on exactly the same day in 1988. Mr. Gauntner has focused his years on education through teaching, writing and consulting, while Mr. Harper has focused on brewing, the only non-Japanese toji (brewmaster) in Japan. Their efforts have greatly improved the availability and enjoyment of sake in the English speaking world.