Way back in 2010 when I was doing my course work and studying for the WSET Level 2 Award in Wine and Spirits (WSET) I documented the journey. I shared my notes, what I was learning and some of my fears. This time around, I’d like to share a little of what I will be learning in my WSET Level 1 Award in Sake course and why these courses may interest you.

As a wine and spirits writer now for 10 years (egads!) I wanted the knowledge and credibility I would gain by a formal education and certification process. In looking back at my “wine 101” articles I see that I have learned a lot in my journey that began with both formal and informal tastings, classes at the Wine House in LA, reading, wine country trips, interviews with winemakers, pairings and attending events.

So now at press time I’m currently studying ahead of my current sake course, taking notes, looking at YouTube “How Sake is Made” videos...but I won’t know if I passed until the tests are returned from the London offices! Egads again!

Some of What I’m Learning

  • One of the official names for sake is Nihon-Shu.
  • You need four things to make Sake, and one is a mold named koji that is grown on steamed rice.
  • There are six grades of sake.
  • A simple sake is called futsu-shu and is characterized by a clear, yellow or green appearance, slightly sweet and acidic with lactic and fruit flavors.
  • A ginjo sake has aromas of flowers and fruit. The daiginjo sake means “big ginjo.”
  • Junmai sake has no alcohol added and exhibits more cereal and lactic aromas.
  • Depending on how much of a grain of white rice is polished down determines the grade of the sake it will produce – and is determined by Japanese law. The more that is polished away the more refined the sake will be.
  • Like baking bread, the fermentation process begins with a “starter” batch.
  • The yeast used during fermentation is what determines the flavor.
  • The Japanese labeling terms are in Japanese – of course – wish me luck remembering the different characters.
  • Nama sake is not pasteurized.
  • Nigori sake is “roughly” filtered and the final product is left intentionally cloudy. (Somewhat like an unfiltered wine.)
  • Koshu is an aged sake and may appear brown in color.
  • Just like wine, sake can be damaged if exposed to heat or intense light.
  • The sake decanter is called a tokkuri.
  • Tulip shaped wine glasses enhance sake aromas.
  • A masu is the word for the small boxes sometimes used as drinking vessels, however, the wood can change the flavor so it’s best used only in ceremonial occasions.
  • The Japanese cup is called the o-choko.
  • Sake goes with most food, best with similar flavors such as sweet dishes and sweet sake.

Why Sake

Let’s go way back, again, when my husband introduced me to sushi and hot sake a few decades ago. I thought sake tasted tinny and felt like wet baby oil on the palate. I suffered through it but never really found a taste for it. Somehow, and it might have been my first visit to Maru Sushi and meeting with chef Jason Park, I discovered cold sake: clear or cloudy, sparkling or flat, nutty to sweet. Now, I thought, we’re talking. Just like my interest in spirits (looking for that first WSET Spirits only class to hit LA soon!) I felt that sake had many expressions and I was dying to learn more. This course promised that Instructed by Toshio Ueno, SSI WSET Certified Sake Educator, Certified Master Sake and Shochu Sommelier would lead us through:


Sake production and styles.

Wine Tasting technique.

Storage and service.

Social responsibility.


Then, after a light sushi lunch we would return to:

Taste further.

Food and sake pairing exercise.

Learning review.

And then comes the Multiple Choice Exam!

In synopsis this course is for consumers (not just those that sell or write) that have a hankering to learn: 
Main sake ingredients 
Main production steps 
Principal categories and grades of sake 
Specialty styles of sake 
Controlled production steps 
Japanese labeling terms 
Storage and service 
Common faults/How to taste Sake  
Principles of food and sake pairing 
Social and health issues

Eve Bushman has a Level Two Intermediate Certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, a "certification in first globally-recognized course" as an American Wine Specialist ® from the North American Sommelier Association (NASA), was the subject of a 60-minute Wine Immersion video, authored “Wine Etiquette for Everyone” and has served as a judge for the Long Beach Grand Cru. You can email Eve@EveWine101.com to ask a question about wine or spirits. You can also seek her marketing advice via Eve@EveBushmanConsulting.com