“Ask Beau” – “How Did You Learn To Describe Sake?”
This is a great question and I used to get it a lot when I did a lot of tastings. First of all, I am a goofball and that helps when describing anything in life. I really don’t hold back. Secondly, I think sake speaks for itself. So put these two things together and you can tell how I roll.
In all honesty, I had to be able to describe sake well to educate folks about sake. Before my licenses and certifications and titles, I was just a guy trying to tell people what to expect in a certain sake. I had a leg up on most people, because more sake had passed my lips and I could start to differentiate before others could. This was way back when most drinkers had only tried one or two brews and that was their basis. I on the other hand, had tasted far more brews and I realized that all sake did not taste the same!
When you sell a product that nobody knows too much about, you have to be able to describe what they should expect in a foreign bottle of a foreign brew. So I had to learn vocabulary and wording to help folks imagine a sake by my description. Rarely in my reviews do I say this is a great sake or this is an amazing brew. I actually say this would be a great sake to learn what to look for in a Yamahai sake. Or this is an amazing reflection of how a dry Niigata Ginjo sake should taste.
Then I discovered humor. Ha! Just kidding. The humor was always there, I just discovered how to “use” it when describing sake. Remember drinking booze is a luxury. It’s entertainment in most cases. So I wanted to describe sake in non-clinical and stiff terms to appeal to consumers who wanted to drink a good time. I have a lot of formal training to speak to sake as a professional. But I prefer getting more street with it. My goal was to be very much unlike Robert Parker with my descriptions.
Then I discovered making up words. No kidding! I actually make up words to describe sake. And my spell check always reminds me that certain words do not exist. But that has never stopped me from using my creativity to really give sake a word that it needs! My team at True Sake actually hates this, because they are in charge of proofreading. And trust me when I say that they have denied you good readers of many many invented sake words in their efforts to “correct” my prose!
Lastly, I like honing my skills at description by going to tastings of other sorts. Recently I went to Half Moon Bay for an “Herbs for Digestion and Wellness” farm workshop with Jennifer Lee Segale from Garden Apothecary, an amazing store. (gardenapothecary.com) This outside lecture and workshop was fascinating for me as I learned what certain herbs can do for the body and more importantly what they can do to a palate! We blindly tasted herb-based teas to determine what they could do for your digestive system. For me, I was focusing on how “bitters” of different sorts tasted in the palate. It was outstanding to discover the drying effect, the coating effect, the flavor effect each of the herbs had on my palate. It was very cool, and I had to control myself from asking too many questions. (I didn’t want to be THAT guy at the tasting, but I probably was!) The bottom line is that Jennifer and I agreed to maybe make an herbal True Sake tea that would be great for hangovers. But we all know good sake doesn’t produce hangovers!