John Gauntner’s book Saké Handbook was one of several books I read while studying for the International Kikisake-shi Certification. Of the three books, I felt that this one was the best book for someone who is brand new to enjoying saké. The book is broken into three parts. The first part covers the history, manufacturing steps, and terminology associated with the production of saké. The second part gives brief descriptions of 106 sakés from Japan. Seeing that there are over 1600 breweries this is not an all comprehensive list, but does provide a snap shot of saké in Japan. The third part covers bottle shops and saké bars in Japan.
What I liked about the book: I would be supprised if the greatest sales of this book are not in the airport bookstores for individuals traveling to Japan for the first time. The information provided was a complete story of the saké process without getting too technical. Going from absolutely no knowledge this book would get you started well. If you are making your first trip to mainland Japan and are curious about saké this is the ideal book for your travels. Many of the sakés could be found in the Tokyo area as well as many of the bars and distributors mentioned are in the Kanto Plain.
What I didn’t like about the book: After the first part the book is very much tied to Tokyo and the surrounding areas. Living in Okinawa, Japan I have found it difficult to find many of the sakés mentioned in the book. Although I cannot find most of the sakés listed in the book I am able to read about the saké style and find out how he describes the drink. Also if you already have a wealth of knowledge about saké this book will not provide much more than an introductory information.
Will it stay on my shelf: Yes, but only to be given to a future visitor who is curious about saké once Japan opens their borders again. I am also planning some trips to the mainland so this book may come with me as I try and find some of these sakés and bottle-shops. If we do one day move to the mainland from Okinawa this may become more useful. Right now it’s waiting for the eventual visitor.
Would I recommend this book for your library: If you ever wondered if there was more beyond saké shots or sake bombs this would be a great starter book. Definitely if your are planning a trip to Japan skip the second run movie on the flight and read this book. You can get through the first part on the flight and use the second part to compare your taste in saké to the writers thoughts. Hopefully you can find one of the pubs listed in the third part.