Sake Talk Anyone?

Other than ensuring basic knowledge (at one time) of sake history, brewing methods, characteristics and service,
the SSA sake sommelier certification means nothing to me.

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re: Sake School of America

The SSA is a for-profit organization that was created by and is wholly-owned by Mutual Trading Company.
Mutual Trading Company is a Japanese food & bev importer/distributor that is majority-owned by Takara Sake USA–a Japanese sake and shochu maker.

A student of the SSA will notice ONLY Mutual Trading Company products discussed and tasted.
Instructors, in most cases, are MTC employees.
(If this is no longer true, please correct me.)

In an optimistic light, the SSA was created to bring more knowledge about sake to U.S. and improve service & storage conditions.
In a pessimistic light, the SSA was created to cultivate brand loyalty–even dependency–to MTC products and bolster sales.

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Correct me if I’m wrong, but MTC imports/distributes products not made by Takara.

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For those interested, here are all the other sake-related interviews on the Japan Eats podcast. Wish there were more English-language interviews with brewers.

Yuki Minakawa - beverage/service director at Sushi Ginza Onodera NYC

Andrew Richardson - sales rep at World Sake Imports

Chris Pearce - organizer of Joy of Sake

Jamie Graves - sake portfolio manager at Skurnik

co-owners of Brooklyn Kura

Tim Sullivan, founder of & brand ambassador for Hakkaisan
My Apprenticeship at a Japanese Sake Brewery | Heritage Radio Network
The Life of a Sake Ambassador | Heritage Radio Network

Jessica Joly, 1st Miss Sake USA, sake sommelier/professional

Mashiro Takeda, VP of Wine of Japan, importer

Monica Samuels, sake sommelier/professional

Leonard Phillips, owner of Ambassador Wine & Spirits in NYC

Henry Sidel, president of Joto Sake, importer

Chris Johnson, sake sommelier

Erik Shirai, filmmaker, The Birth of Sake

Kenji Ichishima, owner of Ichishima Brewery

Chizuko Niikawa-Helton, sake sommelier

Todd Bellomy, founder of Dovetail Sake (Brewery in Massachusetts)

John Gauntner, sake professional, author

Roger Dagorn, sake sommelier

Rick Smith, owner of Sakaya, sake specialty shop in NYC


You are correct.

Mutual Trading offers the most sake SKUs of any importer, but there is definitely pressure, if not outright mandates, to push Takara product (Sho Chiku Bai, Mio, Shirakabegura).

Mutual Trading Company was not always majority-owned by Takara.
Takara went from holding 45.4% of shares to 51% of shares in Nov 2016.(


The problem is that the SSA brings bias for MTC products, both Takara and non-Takara, into what is ostensibly an educational institute.

A few comments:

They say being certified in sake, part of it is (self) validation, and the other is just having better industry recognition/credibility, should anyone ever find themselves exploring that career path. I guess it depends on what one wants to do with it. In the end it boils down to how much passion you really have, level of understanding, appreciation, and what you do with all of that. If you can build solid relationships with industry people, sake brewery people, including the brewery operations guys/master brewers without the certification, visit breweries and trade shows, evangelize on your own or with the industry people, you are already more than halfway there.

One of the greatest sake bar owners in Tokyo who apparently has advised a lot of sake brewery people, as well as restaurant industry people (and sushi folks too to educate them on sake and pairing), is not certified…but he knows the flavor of sake so well that he could on a whim pick something fun from his 800 bottle collection spread across his restaurant and private storage to pair with something from the kitchen, and figure out the best way to serve the sake (vessel, temperature, oxygenation), and he nails that so amazingly well. However not everyone appreciates that level of nuance and micro detail, but I sense it and feel it completely. I asked him through a translator what he thought of the certification, and he just smiled and basically said he doesn’t think much of it (lol not surprised at this, especially when people go to him for advice!).

As far as Mutual (LA/Northern California) and their sake portfolio…it’s actually not bad at all compared to some of the others, but that’s more subjective. I see far more regional smaller producer type sake (jizake) than I do with JFC or World Sake and I think JFC and World Sake are overly used up here (and of course with the brand names from Mutual). But things could change over time as apparently Dassai is not going to go with Mutual at some point, which could signal a major shift (e.g. the Takara product push even harder).

Speaking of Takara, I recently tasted the Sho Chiku Bai Junmai Daiginjo, and it’s not bad. Not that I would run out and buy a bottle tonight though, but impressionable.

Cioletti failed to mention Den Sake Brewery…ouch… they are the best of the American sake breweries thus far; batches 2, 3, and 4 were so impressive they blew away my industry friends in Japan who tasted them when I brought bottles back.

Too bad about the SSA and the Mutual bias…it’s more like sales training.
I see more people going for WSET or John Gaunter’s extensive boot camp courses.

Maybe it’s better to squander the funds for a potential sake education/training/certification towards drinking as much quality sake of varying prices as much and as often as possible.


Particularly great sake talk in these last few entries. I am learning a ton. Keep up the good work!


Great stuff.

Just like some are too smart for college. It’s a waste of time when you already have the brain, the knowledge and passion for something - egs. Gates, Zuckerberg. Of course, they’re on another level - but I can’t think of a better analogy when saying the same could be said of some sake experts who aren’t certified… Cough, cough @beefnoguy.

Hah! I never enjoy places like McD & Denny’s more than when I’ve been eating my way thru another country. We love and can’t wait to eat the local foods, but towards the end of a trip those Golden Arches look like a comforting mirage. :yum:

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Was doing some research on women in the sake industry and came across this line about Yuho…

Relevant quote:
“Miho Fujita the owner of the brewery believes her sake taste best after being open 1-2 months.”

I’d like to test this!

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For those not aware, here’s a relatively new sake-focused podcast called Sake On Air:

In their own words:
“SAKE ON AIR is a bi-weekly exploration into the stories, people, lifestyle, and what’s really happening in the world of SAKE and SHOCHU. The show is brought to you by a team of experts based here in the Sake Homeland of Japan, working and thriving on the front lines of the industry. Together with local and international guests from a range of fields, both sake-specific and sake-curious, each week we’ll be going beyond just, “What is sake?” and instead, exploring the excitement, challenges, depth, and possibilities in, what we think, is arguably the world’s most fascinating and enjoyable pair of beverages.”


For Angelenos that want to try Den, head to Shibumi.
Supplies definitely limited. Call ahead.
They hand-carry cases down from the Oakland brewery.


It’s so great to see Yoshi san get the recognition he deserves and now exposure in the LA times! I’ve visited the brewery a few times and it is really amazing how he built it all from the ground up, improvised on equipment, techniques, and yet despite the size and throughput, comes out with a solid product that is as good as sake from Japan! Having tried all of the batches so far, with the exception of the early batch #5, their sake is fantastic, solid, and so much fun to have.

I’ve brought bottles of Den #3 and #4 back to Japan two months ago and shared with local sake industry and restaurant people, the positive feedback was quite tremendous!

Umami Mart in Oakland is in process of moving and sold out at the moment, but after they settle in their new location and restock, you should be able to mail order the single pasteurized version of the latest Den batch #5 (or #6 depending on when that is released)

and yes they will be willing to ship that. Not the same as a non pasteurized nama, but it’s a taste of Den nonetheless.

On a side note, Sake Day San Francisco is on 9/28 this year. Get your tickets now!


I am mid-way through listening to this podcast with LA-based Kerry Tamura from World Sake. It is very good!


Great find and share! I’m about 3/4 of the way through and I really like Kerry’s articulation, demeanor, and the way he expresses, represents, and shares his thoughts about sake as well as his family history and background. It’s always interesting to get the perspectives of American and state side industry people, especially the reps who do more than just rep’ing.

A few side comments unrelated.

I just shared my thoughts about sake and pairing in general from observations in Japan most recent trip and to some extent what I have come across here in Northern Cailfornia

There is a 11 day long Craft Sake Fair going on in Roppongi Hills in Tokyo (will end in a few days). Every day of the event are representatives and heads of major breweries (big and small) showcasing about 3 bottles from their entire portfolio (some are seasonal, some are regular staples). 110 sake breweries nation wide representing, 10 breweries per day all spread across. I am unclear of the details but I believe it is paying for a ticket to get in, which may get you some additional ticket stubs to redeem for sake tasting. What’s more amazing about this event is that there will actually be food in the form of meal sets (on trays) from different parts of the world, and you can even ask the master brewers what they recommend what their sake should go with! There is also an interactive booth featuring a game where you can select from any flavor of kit kat, and it will recommend a sake featured in the fair to pair with it, after you answer questions asking your personal preferences/likes and dislikes.

Since you are familiar with Tatsuriki, Ryusuke Honda with around two other reps brought in Akitsu, Kimoto Tokubetsu Junmai, and the “rainbow” Dragon series Episode 3 to showcase. They will be back in Northern California in May, although I do not know if they will be traveling to Los Angeles this time.

Craft Sake Fair is hosted by Hidetoshi Nakata who was a former soccer player who created his own company to promote Japanese craft, culture, and sake. He is quite legendary now for being very successful and is seen as a big celebrity in the sake world for many reasons.


Looking forward to it. I didn’t listen to the other podcast referenced further up on this thread. You guys were saying there was some good stuff, but some misinformation too. I’m not experienced enough to distinguish so I passed. But I trust Kerry! Thanks!


Yes, he’s really enthusiastic, engaging and just an-all-around positive guy.


The interview with Chris Pearce on Japan Eats is great. He’s the owner of World Sake Imports; Kerry refers to him a couple times in the interview.

The few episodes of the Sake On Air podcast that I’ve listened to seem pretty unimpeachable, although I don’t pretend to be an expert. I really enjoyed episode 11.