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The Sake Handbook: All the information you need to become a Sake Expert! Paperback – November 15, 2002
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"The best currently available sake guidebook in English is The Sake Handbook by John Gauntner, an American living in Japan."—San Francisco Chronicle
About the Author
John Gauntner is recognized as the world's leading non-Japanese sake expert. A longtime Japan resident, he is well known among sake brewers and others within the sake industry. He wrote the Nihonshu Column in the Japan Times for many years before writing a weekly column on sake in Japanese for the Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan's and the world's most widely distributed Japanese newspaper. In 2006, John received the Sake Samurai award, the first year it was awarded. He has published five books on sake.
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Top Customer Reviews
To start with, The Sake Handbook goes over each step involved in making sake. Reading through the intricate processes involved helps you understand why there are so many varieties of sake, and why each one has a different flavor. One key step, for example, is the polishing step. The inner part of the rice generally is of higher quality than the outer portion, so the more 'extra' that is polished away, the finer the sake.
Next, Gauntner goes over the various types of sake, and how each is unique. Some of these terms are:
* Junmai-shu is pure rice sake. Only rice, water, and the koji mold are used to produce this top level sake. It ends up tasting heavier and fuller than other types of sake. It uses less than 70% polished rice - this means they have `ground away' the other 30% of impurities.
* Honjozo-shu has a small amount of distilled ethyl alcohol added during the final stages. They then add water later so the alcohol content stays the same. This sake is lighter and dryer than other types. It can be served warm.
* Ginjo-shu uses 60% polished rice. It is also fermented for longer periods of time, giving a complex and delicate flavor.
* Daiginjo-shu is just like Ginjo-shu, but polished to 50% of the original size. It takes even longer to brew and complete. Futsuu-shu - any sake which does not fall into one of the above four categories.
Gauntner describes how sake is tasted, and how an individual can learn to distinguish between various sakes, and figure out the 'type' best suited for his or her palate. To help with this, the entire second half of the book is dedicated to a brand-by-brand evaluation of the best sakes on the market. This is invaluable! No matter if you're in Tokyo or Chicago, you can bring this book in with you to a store or restaurant and compare with ease the various sakes available.
There even is a section towards the back listing the best sake restaurants in Japan. If you're going on a trip to Japan, bring this book along, and know what to order and any special rules about each location.
This book is a great foundation for learning about sake. His followup book 'Sake Confidential' is a must have as well.
With each of the sake detailed, the author provides tasting notes and information about other sakes from the same brewer.
As a side note of the detail of the book, one of my Japanese friend's found her favourite sake in the book. I went to my local bottle shop with the book, pointed to the picture of the label and found we found it, leading to a night of entertaining drinking.
I was really wanting more of the first 1/3 of the book since I'm have no plans of traveling to Japan on a Sushi-tasting junket anytime soon.
This book provides an objective description of many types of sake, without treading on that hallowed ground of 'taste'. The description of how different types of sake are made sets up the novice well to make their own judgement on which brands meet their satisfaction. Good book.
I also like the explanation of the various types of rice used to make sake. The language in the book is made easy, so that anyone can understand the contents of this very good information. I think that we need to read this book at least twice in order to become familiar with the sake terminology.
There are also some good recommendations of great sake: many of them are hard to find in Japan. However, with a little searching around: eureka!
If you're into rice wine like I am, this is a good piece for anyone's collection.
Good work John Gauntner!