Most people agree that Mondays are evil. They're the dependable buzzkill to our weekend-long party. Fortunately, living in the Magic City means fun events aren't reserved just for Fridays. To welcome this week, Makoto, along with world-renowned sake master John Gauntner, will host a five-course sake dinner tonight. If that's not a good way to start the week, we don't know what is.
Gauntner is the only non-Japanese certified master of sake tasting in the world and has earned the very difficult Sake Expert Assessor certification from Japan's National Research Institute of Brewing. No other non-Japanese holds both certifications. He has also authored five books on the drink. In short, he's sort of a big deal in the sake world.
The intimate affair will pair sake from four brewers -- Rihaku, Taka Tenjin, Yuho, and Kanbara. Don't know anything about them? That's what Gauntner is here for. He will explain the choice for each sake, let you know where it's available, and answer any questions you have. As far as the food, chef Makoto Okuwa will pair the sake with his meticulous and flawless food. On the menu will be fire-and-ice oysters, hamachi pastrami airbread, duck tskemen noodles, and robata-grilled Kobe. Makoto's choice of seasonal desserts will be a mysterious ending to a magical night.
In anticipation of the event, Short Order spoke with the Ohio native about his journey, why sake isn't a spirit, and which brands of sake are best and most affordable.
Short Order: How did you decide sake was a field you wanted to pursue? Endless nights of drinking the spirit?
John Gauntner: Well, first of all, it is not a spirit; it is a brewed beverage -- made like a beer, enjoyed like a wine. I actually never made a conscious decision to make sake my career. It was a series of coincidences that led to it. I got way into it but never thought I would make it my job. But a friend working at the Japan Times newspaper asked me to write an article for them; then they asked me to write a column for them. Then a publisher asked me to write a book for them after having seen the column. I got involved in the industry to make sure I was writing the truth, and then a producer asked me to work on export with him. I realized I needed to educate the trade overseas, and that led to me developing education courses. It all kind of came to me rather than me pursuing it.
What did it take to become Sake Expert Assessor-certified by the National Research Institute of Brewing?
Lots of focused tasting practice over two years, after 15 years of tasting in the industry. It is all about precision and repeatability in tasting. It was pretty tough, actually.
What is something many people don't know about sake but should?
That when it comes to culture, history, and the brewing industry; the styles, types, grades, flavor, and aroma profiles, that it is easily as complex, deep, and nuanced as the wine world. Easily so. Fascinatingly so.
What advice do you have when it comes to pairing sake with food?
The biggest piece of advice is to violate perceived authenticity. There is no right way to do it in Japan; it is far less rigorous than the wine world. But pairing sake and food is like pairing wine and food: Find things in the food and the sake that either dovetail together or contrast so as to make both taste a little better. And personal experience is the only way to really do that.
Where can people find great and affordable sake? Your top pick for a bottle of sake under $100/$50/$20 (too much of a stretch?)?
I am not sure where to buy in Miami, as I live in Japan. Also, I am associated with the importer Vine Connections, so that my answers here need that full disclosure.
But, under $100: Takatenjin Junmai Daiginjo ("Soul of the Sensei"). Under $50: Tensei Junmai Ginjo ("Song of the Sea"). Under $20: Hard to answer as there are fewer premium sakes in that range and I am not as familiar with what is available.
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SHOW ME HOW
A Night with John Gauntner, Monday, May 19. $100 per person. Three seatings are available (6:30, 7, and 7:30 p.m.) and are limited to 20 people each. Reservations can be made by phone at 305-864-8600
Follow Carla on Twitter @ohcarlucha