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Sake History – My 2,000th Sake Review

Sake History – My 2,000th Sake Review

Last month I recorded my 2,000 “Official” sake review. What the heck is an official sake review? Basically for me an “official” review was when I had a bottle of sake and an hour to spend tasting it, trying it in different glasses, and trying it at different temperatures. It wasn’t just writing quick notes, rather it was the foundation for all of the reviews ever written for True Sake.


As I was telling Chris and Mei at the store, my first “sake notebook” was an awesome black leather book that had roughly 150 “official reviews” that I had accumulated in South Africa and Japan. These were my first efforts of putting rice and water to tongue and pen to paper. The book was battered and tattered and looked like it had been around many bars and Izakayas in Japan. Sadly, on one drinking night in Shinjuku I left the book on my taxi seat when I got to my hotel. It left me that night and the realization when I discovered it was gone was heart wrenching. It wasn’t the effort that was gone, but rather the passion of exploration in those one of a kind pages.


I had to start again. And the new book, which I entitled “Beau’s Book of Sake and Sake Selections'', had a picture of my then 6-month-old daughter Riley who is now 21 years old. This book and the subsequent 17 others would never leave me. Each different book of differing colors and materials housed roughly 150 individual reviews of sake from 2001. In re-reading them it is obvious that I got better at reviewing sake, that my voice changed from just documenting them to really extolling the sake that I tasted.

The cool thing is that I didn’t know much about sake, but the brews were my educators, teachers, and sensei. I created my own SMV or Nihonshu-Do system before I even knew what that was and how it was used. I drew a line, a scale if you will, that measured what I felt was the sweetness versus the dryness of each sake. And to be honest I still use my own scale to this day on each and every review knowing full well what the SMV of each sake is that I am reviewing. It’s a grounding mechanism for me, and it does show the sometimes arbitrary use of the Nihonshu-Do that at times doesn’t translate to the actual taste of each brew.


My first entry #1 in book #1 was Kikusui Junmai Ginjo from Niigata prefecture. I started writing the review on the right page, which left the left page blank initially. Later as my reviews enhanced and elongated they carried over to the left page, which is sort of weird. In the first fifty or so reviews I wrote the “Word” that best encapsulated that sake in one descriptive. A sushi chef, Katsu from Sushi on North Beach, sold me a case and said that it was “dry,” but I felt it was fruity and sort of sweet. I gave it a 4 on my sweet and dry scale between 1-10. “Too fruity for a dry Ginjo.” “I say it’s very sweet.” “Better cold than room temp.” And my word was “Citrus.” And I graded it a “B.” What a neophyte!


Tamanohikari, Mu, Tengumai, Maihime, Otokoyama, Kubota, and Suigei were in the first 20 reviews. I gave Kubota Manjyu my first A+, and Urakasumi Zen was my second! The reviews each got a little longer, and my “words” continued to drift in sell mode, and this is even before I thought about opening a sake store. “Smooth as velvet water, no strong flavors, just perfection. This is sake for kings” “This is the Ginjo, and you can really tell the difference from the Daiginjo.” “Dull start with acidic finish, slightly boozy and pretty thick, chewy, syrupy, and a punchy finish.”

The words started to come out better as the number of reviews increased. I was finding my legs. I also noticed you don’t just drink sake, but rather you take it in. I started to add more aspects of how to taste. Sake was sort of like beer and wine, so I started saying each brew was like this type of beer or this type of wine. And that’s when I developed the TasteMatch system and received a registered trademark - just more ways of explaining sake. But to whom and why? Why was I taking these notes and writing reviews?


I think deep down I knew that I was going to open a shop to help people exactly like myself who wanted to know more about sake, but just didn’t know where to look or who to ask. Each review gave me more confidence. Each review my palate expanded, and I think that was the essence of learning sake, to taste as many as possible to learn to distinguish between brews. Subconsciously, I started writing the name of each importer of each sake that I tasted. Why? Why in the hell did I do that?  Pacific Rim Importers, Wine of Japan, Maruto Sea Vegetables, JFC, and Nishimoto were some of the first names that I wrote down in the reviews. (Eventually, I used this list of names and addresses to fax the importers a letter saying that I was going to open a sake store. A fax! Where is the laughing emoji when you need it?)

Book #2 started off with Tsukinokatsura Nama Junmai Daiginjo Nigori and oh boy were the words flowing. “A quick jump out of the gate screams nama, surprising and effervescent with a full grape flavor that transcends the soft yet snappy profile of champagne grapes throughout each sip.” “This is a mouth party and it tastes like a brewery smells.” I wrote the WORD, the WINE, and the BEER and Introduced FOODS with one other category that I don’t use any more: “Image” (Sitting in the brewery drinking this sake and laughing with the bubbles.”


Book #4 I graded Kokuryu Junmai “Black Dragon” an A, and this is when each and every review was written using 3 different sized glasses. It dawned on me that not every sake drinker drank out of what I used. Duh! So I began using a white wine glass, a mid-sized water glass, and an O’choko to capture the flavor, fragrance, and feeling of each brew and the reviews really began to fill out. It’s roughly when I also developed the “Bottle Nose.” This is yet another aroma created by sake, and for me it’s a butterfly net catching a very odd and yet significant aroma that is lost in the glass. The top of every bottle has an empty space void of sake, but what resides there is an aroma that comes and goes when the bottle is opened. Fleeting is the best word to describe this unique aroma, but it speaks volumes.


 2,000 reviews later I still am amazed how each sip astounds me, and I realize that I am merely a passenger on this ship known as Nihonshu. The trials and tribulations of using sake reviews to open the first dedicated sake store is just one chapter in our process for communicating sake. I wonder what the 4,000th review will be and where will it be written?



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