Sake World Email Newsletter #133
April, 2011

Douzo, douzo!

In This Issue


Good rice? Bad rice?

The Current Situation in Japan

Announcements and Events: Sake Professional Course in NYC

Did you Know?

Sake Basics

Sake Education Central

Quick Links
Sake World Website
More About Us
Free Download!
Get your free download "Sake, The Least You Need to Know," and jump-start your sake enjoyment now.
Download "Sake: The Least You Need to Know" here

Greetings to all readers,

There is but one way to open this newsletter. Let us all offer our

condolences, hope, and prayers to those that have suffered loss of life and livelihood in the recent earthquake-tsunami. With every passing day, the depth of the tragedy reveals itself, and all attempts at fathoming an answer to the “why” question are futile. Let us all push the envelope of our ability to be compassionate and do whatever we can. Please see the section in the newsletter below for details on how this hit the sake industry, and how you can help. Arguably, the most effective things you can do to help are decidedly not monetary.

There are also a couple of stories and a handful of announcements, including the Sake Professional Course NYC this summer, the launching of the Sake Education Council website, and the new, improved, audio-enhanced iPhone app The Sake Dictionary, and its new low price.

Warm regards,


Bad rice? Good rice?
Only time will tell...

Due to the extremely hot and dry summer, the rice this year is
Flowering Rice in Happier Days
notoriously bad. Especially, it seems, the Yamada Nishiki. In fact, two separate industry consultants wrote “the brewers are in for a rough year with the rice being this bad” on their New Year’s greetings cards to me. You’d think they would have at least remembered to say “Happy New Year!” as well. But noooo…

Still, not everyone agrees. Takashi Aoshima, the maniacal brewer of Kikuyoi in Shizuoka, begs to differ. Some of the rice he uses is grown organically just down the road by his friend, Matsushita-san. “The Yamada Nishiki he grew this year is of wonderful quality,” he asserts. “Better than an average year, even. And so is some of the top-grade rice from Hyogo Prefecture (where the best Yamada Nishiki grows). The rice grown with great care and attention to detail is really good this year. It’s the industrial-grown stuff that is sub-par.”

Surely his familiarity with the locally grown stuff affects his opinion. After all, he works in Matsushita-san’s fields (and Matsushita-san in return works in the brewery in the winter). By spending lots of time with the rice as it grows, he is able to know how it will behave in the brewing process.  

“It is years like this one that engrave a clear line between great rice producers and mediocre ones,” he concludes.

But in truth, I have heard no one else - no one - echo his sentiments about any of it being good. So it seems the brewers will have a harder time than usual making their top grades. However, remember that half the battle in sake brewing is inside the kura, i.e. the methods used in brewing. This is where a good brewer will shine: taking a mediocre-at-best rice crop and making a great sake. How would they do that? By making minute adjustments as they brew.

Wait for the Nationals!
Just how bad the rice really is will become evident in May, at the National New Sake Appraisal. I have a feeling things will be fine, or at least not as bad as the ominous reports indicate. But only time will tell.

More about the current situation in Japan
...and how it is affecting the sake industry, and what you can do to help.

By now we are all very well aware of what is happening here in

Japan. With respect to the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in the Tohoku area of Japan, dozens and dozens of breweries have been affected. As far as I can tell, perhaps ten or so have been totally destroyed, and even amongst those there are several that have vowed to rebuild. We will in the end lose just a few. But the effects on the others that have been affected, everything from structural damage to a simple lack of gasoline or electricity are the remaining problems.

Many of the problems are deceivingly potent. Even if all people and buildings are safe and intact, they can be hampered in dozens of other ways. Lots of power failures or blackouts can affect a brewer’s ability to do simple things like pump water from a well, or chill water to a proper temperature, or cool down a tank, or heat up a koji-making room. A broken or toppled smokestack means they cannot steam rice without smoking out the whole neighborhood. Gasoline being allotted to places that really need it may mean not being able to ship product. No sales, no revenue.

You can read a caveat-filled list of what I have compiled and subsequently updated here . You can help monetarily through one of the links here.

However, there are other - arguably more effective in the long run - ways of helping Japan. How? Simply stated: By guarding assiduously against the hype that is sure to come. There will no doubt be a whole host of folks avoiding sake and anything else from Japan out of misplaced fear, based on hyperbole-charged headlines.

Of course, by all means, act within you comfort zone. And with that as a premise, I do feel that one of the best ways to help Japan is to continue to enjoy things Japanese.

As you might imagine, not too many folks in the Tohoku region feel like drinking sake or whoopin’ it up right now. So it might even be a good idea to lean toward Tohoku in your sake selections for a time. Miyagi and Iwate to start, Aomori, Akita and Yamagata to continue, and Fukushima as well. They can use all the economic stimulus they can get. It will help Japan, it will help your own economy, and it will help the sake world. Please; vigilantly guard against hype.

Finally, I have been moved and inspired by the resoluteness of
The Phoenix that is Tohoku

some of the damaged breweries. Kosuke Kuji of Nanbu Bijin has said in a letter on his blog that the people of Tohoku will not lose to this, and will rise like a phoenix from the ashes. Several of the obliterated breweries - including Suisen, the kura building of which was engulfed and lost to the tsunami entirely, and witnessed on national television - have vowed to rebuild and start again. A favorite of mine, Hitakami from Miyagi, has resolutely decided to hold a previously scheduled tasting of this year’s product in Tokyo, despite the state of his brewery and environs. Their resolve and resiliency is impressive, to say the least.

Let us do what we can - each in our own ways and capacities - to support them, the entire Tohoku region, and Japan as a whole. The sun will rise again over the land of the rising sun, and shine light on the phoenix that is Tohoku.

Did You Know?
The toji, as we all know, is the de facto brewmaster. I say "de
Sanyaku Ring Entering Ceremony in Sumo
facto" because in reality, the stuff brews itself - it is alive for sure. The brewers merely create an environment that allows it do that in a way that is pleasing to us all later. But the toji cannot do all this alone, nor can (s)he manage all the other brewers directly either. So at most places, at least traditionally, there are three people in important positions beneath the toji. One is the kashira, or "head," who is like a managing director, assigning tasks to all the other brewing staff and reporting to the toji. Next is the person in charge of making the koji, known as the "koji-ya" or "daishi." Third is the person in charge of making the yeast starter (moto, or shubo), known at most places as the "motomawari." These three together are sometimes referred to as "sanyaku," which means "the three roles."

So what? Well, nothing really... other than the term is borrowed from the sumo world, in which the three strongest ranks just below the top rank of yokozuna are also referred to as sanyaku. Just an interesting cultural factoid.

The Sanyaku at a less-popular kura sampling their own sake
And in truth, it is not as if this is a big distinction or part of daily life in a sake brewery. It is not as if one brewer calls another and begins the conversation with, "So, how are your sanyaku doing?" Nah. Not at all. In fact, one rarely hears it anymore. But in researching last month's article on toji, I came across stats that mentioned what percentage of the people involved in the organizations (referred to in that article) were sanyaku, and found it curious that the term was still in use in the appropriate circles.

So, the next someone asks you, "Did You Know?" you can answer, "Why, yes, I did know."

Sake Basics

Sake is brewed with what is called short-grain rice, or “Japonica,”
Japonica short-grain rice
rather than long-grain rice, which is also known as “glutinous” rice (although it is gluten-free!). The differences are fairly self evident: the grains of long-grain rice are longer than those of short-grain rice.

On top of that, though, glutinous rice, also known as uruchimai in Japanese, absorbs water more easily and ends up softer and mushier. Both are grown in Japan, but short grain rice is used for meals and sake, whereas long-grain rice is used for making pounded rice known as mochi.

Announcements and Events
Sake Professional Course in New York City
A "sugidama" - the sign of a sake brewery, and my  course!

July 31 ~ August 2, 2011

"No sake stone remains left unturned."

The next stateside running of the Sake Professional Course will be held at Astor Center in New York City on Sunday, July 31 through Tuesday, August 2, 2011. The course will run basically 9 to 5 all three days, and will conclude with certification testing for the Certified Sake Specialist, recognized by the Sake Education Council. For more information go here  . Feel free to ask me any questions about the course, or make a reservation with an email to

Sake Education Council Website is Live!


Please take a moment to check out the newly completed 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.

Don't forget the archives!
Older editions of this newsletter are archived here.
Really old editions are archived here.

Sake Education Central
The Sake Dictionary App for the iPhone and iPod
The Sake Dictionary App

Newly improved, now with audio, and drastically reduced in price to $0.99!

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.

What a great app!
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!)      
Stay Subscribed!Don't miss a single grain's worth!  Stay suscribed!

Are you not getting this newsletter? I realize that is like asking that "those not present please raise your hand," but for future reference, should you spontaneously stop receiving this newsletter, please go here and sign up again. Should that not work, please go to

Email newsletter services are very careful not to be considered spam enablers, but the problem is that often very valid email addresses come back bounced as invalid. It is an unavoidable problem. So if you or someone you know is not getting this, or stop(s) receiving it inexplicably, please do take a moment to double check that you are still subscribed.

Sincere apologies for the hassle, mixed with gratitude for reading this newsletter.

I hope you have found the above information helpful and entertaining. For more information about all things sake, please check out Until next month, warm regards, and enjoy your sake. Kampai!

Questions and comments should be directed to John Gauntner, at this email address.

All material Copyright, John Gauntner & Sake World Inc.


John Gauntner
Sake World, Inc

Share this