Sunday, February 14, 2010

Saké Dictionary & iPhone App

There just are not enough Saké books available in English. I wish much more were published as the realm of Saké is so expansive yet so little is made known to the general public. Whenever a new book is published, I buy it, hoping for the best, hoping to learn something new.

One of the last Saké books I reviewed was Saké's Hidden Stories: The Personalities, Philosophies, and Tricks-of-the-Trade Behind the Brew by John Gauntner. He is a famed Saké authority and educator who is referred to by the Japanese media as the Saké Dendoushi ("Saké Evangelist"), for his intense devotion to the promotion of Saké. This was a fascinating and informative book, an excellent addition to anyone's library. It told the compelling stories behind numerous Saké breweries, and I highly recommend it.

John has now released a Saké Dictionary, which is available in two formats. First, it is available as a PDF document for $8.99, a concise list of about 200 Saké-related terms. If you come upon an unfamiliar term, you can consult the A to Z dictionary, and find an easily understandable definition. The terms include sake grades, rice varieties, seasonal sake terms, special varieties, rare types, brewing terms and more. It is easy to use, and fairly comprehensive. I even learned a few new terms from the dictionary.

Now you could print out the dictionary and take it with you for assistance when buying Saké, but there is an easier way than carrying around all those papers. The Dictionary has also been released as an iTunes App for $6.99. The App is very similar to the PDF dictionary, though it actually seems to have a few additional terms. It is easy to use and all you have to do is move down to the term you want defined.

How is this useful? For one example, consider that you are shopping for a bottle of Saké and see unfamiliar terms on the label. You can use the App to determine what those words mean, to get a better idea of what is in the bottle. You can then make a better informed decision on whether to buy it or not. An educated consumer is a much better consumer. It is very doubtful that you will find a term on a label, that is not listed in the Dictionary App, unless it is written in kanji.

You can also search the dictionary with English words, and will find all of the terms that use the search word. For example, if you searched for the word "Sweet" you would find seven different terms, from Amakuchi to Yon-dan, related to "sweet."

Though this App is useful, I think it could be improved and made even more useful. Hopefully future editions of the App will have additional content, making it even better.

First, I would like to see a section where the terms are divided into separate categories for ease of reference. For example, maybe you just want to read the different types of Saké rice. Currently, searching for just "rice" gives you more terms than just the different types of rice. And searching for "rice types" gives you no results. Second, some graphics might be nice too, like the "pyramid" often used to show the various grades of Saké or a chart of the brewing process. Lastly, the App could easily add some basic information about Saké, a brief primer.

While considering the potential of Saké Apps, I think it would also be very useful to have an App that provides more extensive information on food pairings with Saké. It is very food friendly, but too many people don't realize its potential, thinking it only pairs well with Japanese cuisine. Though there are other Apps for food pairing with wine, they generally ignore Saké, or provide extremely limited, and often poor, information.

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