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Books on Japan—A Personal Selection

Food & Drink

Book of Saké: A Connoisseur's Guide by Philip Harper. Saké selections by Haruo Matsuzaki. Foreword by Chris Pearce. Photography by Mizuho Kuwata.

Book of Sake This work is an excellent book for both beginners and more knowledgeable fans of this traditional Japanese brew. Harper offers up all the information needed—finding a saké's sweet spot (there is one), matching the beverage with your meal, the fascinating intricacies of brewing this traditional drink, and more. Then he takes it one step further and cuts through the pious orthodoxy in the field for a more realistic viewpoint, accounting for the changes in the saké world in the last fifty years.

He also describes the benefits and characteristics of each type of saké made, from pure rice saké (junmaishu) to the ultimate special brew (daiginjo), and "draft" or "live" saké (nama) to aged offerings (koshu). Irony of ironies is that improved brewing techniques have conquered higher and higher peaks, while in Japan the traditional beverage continues to lose market share to beer, wine, and cocktails. Overseas, saké's reputation is rightfully soaring, and Harper sits at the crossroads as master brewer and one of several non-Japanese spokespeople to emerge in the field.

For an impartial view of individual sakés, Harper took himself out of the mix. He is, after all, a toji, or head brewer. He tapped the multitalented saké journalist Haruo Matsuzaki, who offers impeccable recommendations across all categories.

As far as the book goes, don't be fooled by the number of pages. Production issues for this all-color volume forced the publisher to cram a lot of information in a few pages, but it is all valuable and enlightening.

DISCLAIMER: The author and I developed this book together when overseas saké drinkers began demanding more detailed information about this traditional beverage.

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