Sake is one of the most fascinating aspects of Japanese culture, running the gamut from social drinks like nihonshu,to versatile beverages like shochu. The world of sake is contradictory and complex, but there are experts out there who can guide you through the landscape of Japanese alcohol. They are the people who see sake as a calling and have dedicated themselves to bringing greater awareness to the industry. From a shochu professional to the world’s leading non-Japanese sake evangelist, here are six sake experts that you need to know about.
If you’re looking for the guy who wrote the book on sake, John Gauntner fits that description. Gauntner has been working in the sake industry for over twenty years, bringing awareness to the drink outside of Japan and making it more popular with western audiences.
Gauntner’s list of accomplishments is impressive. He’s the first non-Japanese certified Master of Sake Tasting, the first non-Japanese to win the prestigious Accomplished Sake Taster award and the first to participate as a tasting judge in the final tasting round of the National New Sake Competition.
In addition, Gauntner is the co-founder of the world’s first sake magazine Sake Today and has published six books on sake. His latest book, Sake Confidential, is a brilliant guide for people who have just discovered nihonshu and is definitely worth a read.
Justin Potts is another sake expert to be aware of because of his tireless dedication to promoting the industry in all avenues.
A certified sakasho (master of sake) and founding member of the Sake On Air podcast, Potts collaborates on a range of sake-related projects, such as Peace Kitchen and Udon House. Peace Kitchen provides interactive Japanese dining experiences and sake education guides. Udon House focuses on the Kagawa region of Japan and gives tourists a greater appreciation of the area and its dining culture.
Potts also founded Potts.K Productions with his wife to promote sake and Japanese food on a worldwide scale.
Shochu is an integral part of the Japanese alcohol sector and Christopher Pellegrini is one of the world’s leading experts on this intriguing drink. The first dual-certified shochu professional in Japan and the United States, Pellegrini is the author of The Shochu Handbook. It’s the first book about shochu written in a language other than Japanese.
Pellegrini is also an awamori expert, driving more awareness about the Okinawan drink in the western market. When not running shochu and awamori events, Pellegrini works as the editor of Shochu Pro. Be sure to check out the website and dive into the world of shochu.
Pellegrini isn’t the only shochu expert to look out for. Stephen Lyman has plenty of experience in that area as well. A certified shochu advisor and the first shochu ambassador through the Cool Japan initiative from the Japan National Tourism Organisation, Lyman lives and breathes Japanese alcohol.
As the editor of Kampai.US, Lyman writes regularly about Izakaya dining and Japanese drinking experiences.
In recent years, the UK has seen a boom in sake culture, and it’s thanks to the likes of people like Natsuki Kikuya. As the founder of The Museum of Sake in London, Kikuya helps to educate people on the merits of sake and strengthens its connection to the UK and Europe.
Kikuya comes from a proud sake brewing family in Akita and has spent time in America and England. She’s a certified sake sommelier and has won several awards, such as the 2011 Sake Samurai and International Wine Challenge.
British born Chris Hughes has also helped to elevate the sake industry in the UK and abroad. Hughes first developed his love of sake through working for a Japanese food and drink importer in London called Tazaki Foods. The sake he tasted was poor quality and it ignited his passion for promoting true nihonshu.
Since that faithful day, Hughes has become a certified kikisake-shi (a person who can sell sake across various sectors) and a contributor for the English version of Sake Times. He has also worked as the international ambassador for Kurand, a company that aims to promote boutique and artisanal breweries in Japan.
By learning about these experts, I’ve been inspired to start my own journey into the sake world. Check out my review of The Akashi-Tai honjozo tokubetsu and discover if it’s something worth trying for yourself.