Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Sake Today Magazine: A Review

A magazine devoted to only Sake? What an excellent idea for a new, niche magazine, especially if John Gauntner, the famed Sake expert and Sake Dendoushi ("Sake Evangelist") is behind the endeavor. Now that the first issue has been released, how does the magazine measure up?

The inaugural issue of Sake Today: Celebrating The World Of Sake Culture was recently published, a project founded by John Gauntner and Ry Beville. The magazine can be purchased online for about $10, which includes the cost of shipping. Retailers can purchase copies, at a discount for resale, though I am not aware of any local stores currently stocking this magazine. The original plan was to publish two issues a year, though it is possible that they may change to a quarterly release schedule.

Comprised of 60 pages, the magazine has about 11 full pages dedicated to ads, all from Sake breweries. First, that is a smaller percentage of ads than many other magazines, giving you more content. Second, it is cool that all of the ads are Sake-related, and not for items like cars and watches. Even the ads stay true to the Sake focus of the magazine.

There are 10 Sake articles within the magazine, with 2 by John Gauntner and 2 others without any attribution. Gauntner's articles start things off, with a Welcome To The Inaugural Issue as well as How To Choose Sake: Three Rules. Both are informative and well written articles, presenting lots of great introductory info. In the Welcome article, Gauntner discusses a bit about the history of Sake, as well as noting current consumption patterns, brewing trends and more. That Welcome article is great for Sake lovers of all knowledge levels. In the Three Rules article, Gauntner offers basic advice for buying Sake which should especially help those new to Sake. For example, seeking out the term ginjo is a very good idea.

Next, there is a Filtered Wisdom article providing informative answers to 9 commonly asked Sake questions, such as how to store Sake to how does Sake pair with food. The Sake & Agriculture article talks about rice farmers, also discussing how the rice affects Sake. Though this is a bit more of an advanced topic, it is written in an easily understood manner, so will be educational for all. Did you know that nitrogen use in the rice fields will affect the levels of amino acids in Sake?

You will then find Otsumami, which very briefly mentions that the Japanese prefer to drink Sake with small plates of food, called otsumami. There are plenty of photos of such dishes, but no descriptions of what each photo depicts. The article notes that the Sake Today website will have descriptions and recipes, but the site does not yet possess that information. Thus, this is the weakest article in the magazine, lacking identifying information. I will note that the photography is compelling, which applies to the entire issue. Visually, the magazine is aesthetically pleasing, which certainly reflects the Japanese love of beauty in all its forms.    

Tokyo: A Sake Lover's Bar Guide lists 9 bar recommendations as well as 6 Sake shops, providing a valuable guide for anyone visiting or living in Tokyo. Besides discussing Sake, there are also mentions of some of the best bar snacks at these places, from fried fish cake pillows to sauteed eggplant. This type of article would be great to see for many different locations, both inside and outside of Japan. Regionality in Japanese Sake provides a glimpse at some of the differences you will find in Sake produced in different parts of Japan. For example, Sake from eastern Japan may be light and refreshing while western Sake is bolder and more assertive. Another intriguing article that touches on issues of terroir.

Craft Beer, Craft Sake notes how the craft beer movement has caught on in Japan too, with a number of Sake breweries getting involved in brewing beer too. There is a special spotlight on the Konishi Brewing Company and even some information on Nogne, a Norway brewery which makes beer and Sake. There is also an article on Sakaya, an all-Sake store in New York City which has long been one of my favorite stops when I visit NYC. The final article discusses Shuki, ceramic vessels for drinking Sake, from ochoko to guinomi. Forget Riedel glasses, and embrace some traditional Japanese pottery.

Overall, I was very pleased with this first issue. It contains a nice diversity of well-written articles complemented by some great photography. The magazine is very friendly to those new to Sake, but also contains articles that will appeal to those with much more knowledge about Sake. My only issue with the magazine is that I wish it were larger. 60 pages seems very thin, especially compared to other niche magazines. However, as this was only the first issue, I suspect the size of the magazine will grow in subsequent issues, especially as more interest develops. There is a definite need for a magazine dedicated to Sake and it appears John Gauntner has compiled a good crew to bring that to life. I recommend that everyone interested or curious about Sake get a copy of Sake Today.

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