The Book of Sake
A Connoisseur's Guide
Once found only in sushi bars and Japanese restaurants outside its native land, sake now lines the shelves of our gourmet food shops, liquor stores, supermarkets, and restaurants of all types. And as sake increasingly becomes a part of the way we dine and entertain, people everywhere are looking for guidance in sorting out the confusing and intimidating array of choices available.
In The Book of Sake, brew master Philip Harper provides all the information anyone needs to discover the many pleasures of Japan’s national tipple. Harper, the only non-Japanese to rise to the official rank of Master Brewer, describes
- how to find each sake’s sweet spot
- how to distinguish all types of sake
- how to enjoy their distinctive flavor and bouquet
- what makes a good sake
- how to match sake with food
- where sake is made, and its regional flavor
- how sake is made
- how professional tasters judge sake
how to have a home sake-tasting party
and much more.
Harper also introduces tidbits of sake lore (as only an insider can), a groundbreaking new tasting chart, and a selection of sakes for all palates and pocketbooks by the esteemed sake journalist Haruo Matsuzaki. To round out the volume, Harper offers a fascinating tour of Japan’s sake regions, then presents the most intriguing view of the sake brew master’s art ever to be published in English.
“A beautiful presentation and very informative. The book is done in a style that is functional for both those new to the saké world and those who are fairly knowledgeable. The combination of art/photos, basic information such as pronunciation guides, and the reviews of the sakes that are both comprehensive and brief, makes this one of the best saké books on the market today.”
—LARRY MECHANIC, Sake Consultant, Sam’s Wines & Spirits, Chicago, IL
“Everything you ever wanted to know about rice wine, by the only Westerner to become a practicing sake brewer in Japan.”
Included in Miami Herald wine columnist Fred Tasker’s annual roundup of "the years most fascinating wine books.”
“A resource for sake novices and hardcore sake-philes who want to enjoy this drink to the fullest.”
—Nichi Bei Times
“A good resource for the novice and the expert alike.”
—The Austin American-Statesman
“They call him ‘the sake savant,’ but that doesn’t bother Philip Harper...In sake-drinking circles across Japan and abroad, Harper is considered a cross-cultural pioneer: the only non-Japanese sake-maker to rise to the rank of toji, or master brewer.”
—The Los Angeles Times
About the Authors
PHILIP HARPER is the only Westerner working as a practicing brewer in the conservative Japanese sake world. A Japanese writer in the field has described his career in this closeted industry as a miracle.
He arrived in Japan fresh out of university in 1988, as a participant in the fledgling JET Program, which had just been set up to place native English speakers in Japanese schools as teaching assistants.
Introduced to fine sake by a Japanese friend, he was infected with an enthusiasm for the national drink from which he has yet to recover. Aside from recreational imbibing, he took part in brewery visits, tastings, and rice-planting events before his first hands-on experience of brewing in 1990.
Later that year, Harper began working in a specialist sake bar. Holidays were spent in a small Nara brewery, gaining further insight into the strange world of traditional sake making. The following season, he joined the brewing staff full time.
Given responsibility for each of the various stages of brewing through successive seasons, he gained a Master Brewer's qualification in 2001, passing the examination set by the Nanbu Brewers' Union to become the first non-Japanese to reach the rank. At the time of writing, after fourteen complete seasons in three breweries, he holds the post of tōji—a sake brewing master—at the Daimon Brewery in Osaka.
Extracurricular activities have included countless tastings and lectures given to industry and lay audiences in New York, London, Tokyo, and elsewhere. Published work includes serialized features in Japanese journals and newspapers and numerous magazine articles, both in Japanese and English. His first book, The Insider's Guide to Sake, was published in 1998.
HARUO MATSUZAKI is one of the most respected authorities and critics of Japanese sake. His extraordinary acuity of palate is complemented by a rare ability to express the character of sake in words, and a truly encyclopedic knowledge of the brewing practice, philosophy, and products of Japan’s breweries. He has written numerous books on the subject, and lectures throughout Japan. For this book, Matsuzaki provided reviews of sakes and breweries, as well as his flavor chart, introduced in English for the first time.
CHRIS PEARCE served as founding president of the International Sake Association from 1987 to 1992. He is the organizer of “The Joy of Sake,” the largest annual sake-tasting event held outside Japan, and has been instrumental in introducing thousands of enthusiasts to the pleasures of a cup of sake.