[dropcap size=small]Y[/dropcap]ou already know the flavours and classifications of sake like the back of your hand, and you want to go deeper into the world of this age-old Japanese craft, to know the history and soul behind some of the most significant bottles.

That’s where Sake, a sturdy 420-page hardcover compendium on over 70 breweries and distilleries, comes in. The stories are a masterful blend of tasting notes, interviews and brewery profiles, interwoven with striking photography of landscapes and day-to-day affairs.

Ancestry, historical circumstances and cultural influences are explored in full prose, which often details facts such as which first-generation brewers were retired samurai, or how earthquakes inadvertently led to innovation and new flavours. Pore over the book and you’ll be spirited away to wintery Hokkaido or a dew-laden morning in Okinawan spring, working a shift in the brewery or kura.

Large breweries which embraced industrialisation and adopted machinery were favoured by Japan’s government during the redevelopment years.

The richness of each story is the product of a creative trinity, each contributor specialising in his area. Elliot Faber, a Canadian sommelier and sake expert, wrote the preface and the detailed tasting notes on one bottle per kura. Hayato Hishinuma, a Yokohama-born Master of sake, plied his advantage as a native and profiled all the breweries and personalities. Jason M. Lang, a prolific and respected travel photographer with work done for The New York Times and UK’s Conde Nast Traveller, adroitly captured the soul of the project with his lens.

The hefty tome can double up as a bookend, and is as substantial and artful as its contents.


The result? A veritable encyclopaedia that’s an enjoyable and enlightening read for both enthusiasts and curious sake drinkers.

Sake: The History, Stories and Craft of Japan’s Artisanal Breweries is available at Books Kinokuniya, online through Amazon, or through its publisher, Gatehouse Publishing. Tel: 6802-3146.

02 03 04 01  02 Sake brewmasters assess rice quality through smell and touch – there are no machine substitutes for this. 03 The hefty tome can double up as a bookend, and is as substantial and artful as its contents. 04 The book delves into the history of each kura, going as far as to explain the designs unique to their bottles.


Five lessons to take away.

01: Serving sake hot is rarely a good thing. Keeping temperatures low lets the sake’s subtle acidity and crispness play out on the palate. Room temperature works fine for sake with high acidity.

02: The Japanese government, historically, has had a big hand in shaping the kura landscape, often passing laws that favour the larger and more efficient breweries over small, hand-crafted labels.

03: Many of the kura have a small Shinto shrine set into their north walls. Each morning, brewers will pray here to Matsuo, the god of brewing.

04: Unlike grapes with wine, the rice grains used in sake production do not influence the flavour greatly. Rather, they serve as intermediary for other ingredients.

05: Less is more with sake – a bottle with lower seimaibuai, which denotes resultant grain size after polishing, equals more character expressed by the grains. Since more polishing and grains are required for these bottles, they cost much more.