If there is one good thing that the pandemic has brought, it is an absolute GLUT of online classes, webinars and seminars that I normally wouldn’t have access to from humble Yamaguchi. Thus did my chance to become a Certified Sake Professional appear.
With the pandemic still making in-person classes hard, sake evangelist John Gauntner took his basics course online. Obviously, some things had to be adapted–the tasting portion was streamlined and made optional, classes spread out over a longer period, and the test reworked for online scoring. But the material covered is apparently identical to the in-person course.
There were five sessions running about three and a half hours each. Each course ended with a short tasting session with sakes from a list of suggestions that John sent in advance (the list was sent, not the sake–that was self provided). I didn’t participate because it ended at 12:30 in the afternoon, and I have family obligations in the afternoons. Also, I must admit I had trouble finding many of the sakes from the list where I am–but that’s just what it is.
In general, most of the actual material isn’t markedly different from what I studied to get my SSI kikisake-shi certificate. Which shouldn’t be surprising, since much of the material is simply factual: what sake is, how it’s made, how it’s classified, and so on. There are contextual elements, and presentation elements, that are markedly different. John has done this class many, many times and he has developed a pace and pattern that really do make the information digestible.
John does go into much more depth on the market conditions, as well as on details like on subtle connections between, for example, rice and flavor or weight of sake, and of course brings his vast personal experience to the classes to offer personal insights. It was always entertaining, clear, and even when the material was basic it was presented in an easily understood manner.
I wish I had been able to participate in a tasting session with John, because all of my tasting training has been on my own, in my room, and an online session just doesn’t offer the kind of feedback that sitting in the same room trying the same sake, from the same vessel as a group of like minded people can.
In the final tally, I’d say that the Sake Professional course has real advantages over SSI’s course, and from what I’ve seen over the WSET materials, in that John knows precisely what points most people have trouble with, and can pinpoint exactly how to get people past those trouble areas. He’s also just a very friendly, clearly knowledgeable guy, whose obvious love of sake is infectious.
The class is highly recommended, and if I could take it in person I would in a heartbeat.