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Q. Could you tell us a little about your background? "I grew up in Cornwall, in the far southwest of Great Britain. Celtic blood may partly explain my passion for fine inebriants. I prepared for a career in sake brewing by studying German and English literature at university, before coming to Japan (with the initial intention of teaching English) in 1988."
Q. What motivated you to write this book? "When I first started drinking sake about a dozen years ago, my Japanese was next to nonexistent. The early period of my sake-drinking career was exhilarating, but not without frustrations. These were mainly to do with the difficulty of terminology. Beautiful as sake labels are, they are often very difficult to read. Even the simple task of ordering a drink in a restaurant is tricky when everything is written in Japan's notoriously complicated script. English information would have been a blessing, but there was very little about. So, in a sense, the book was written for the me of twelve years ago."
Q. Could you tell us a little about the contents of the book? "As well as tasting notes of over 100 specific brands of sake, the book contains an overview of sake's long history, and a description of the remarkable process by which it is made. At the rear, there are reviews and listings of retailers, restaurants, and izakaya in Japan and abroad. A thorough index and glossary are useful features, as is the compact list of vital terms and measures, tucked into the endpapers."
Q. What do you see as the centerpiece of the book? Why is the book important? "The meat of the book is the Sake Sampler, a survey of more than 100 sake brands, with tasting notes, and information on the policy and history of individual breweries. Photographs of each label enable nonreaders of Japanese to find the sakes easily, and the book is compactly formatted, so it can be easily carried on drinking or shopping exhibitions. How important is it? As a lover of sake (rather than as the author) I'd say, as a practical guide, it is second to none.
Q. What did you yourself learn from writing the book? "I was reminded constantly of the huge range of styles of sake."
Q. What would you like readers to take away with them after reading this> book? "If readers come away infected with the delight in sake that has helped me keep my nose to the grindstone in a traditional brewery for the last decade, I would be delighted."
Q. What people or books were influential in the writing of your book? "My uncomplaining wife did enormous amounts of unpaid work. The books of Japanese sake critic and writer, Matsuzaki Haruo, were an inspiration and a tremendous resource. If he wrote in English, I don't think I'd have the nerve to bother. The understated prose of Charles MacClean, and his apt evocations of the delights of Scotch whisky have also been a model for me."
Q. What are your plans for the future, in terms of new books or other projects? "New sake books in the pipeline, in English and Japanese. For English, watch this space!"
Q. Is there anything else the reader should know? "Everyone should be acquainted with fine sake."