John Gauntner is recognized as the world’s leading non-Japanese sake expert.
A resident of Japan since 1988, he (necessarily) both speaks and reads Japanese fluently, and is well known in the sake industry as the window to making sake understandable and popular outside of Japan.
He has been writing and lecturing about sake since 1994, beginning with an eight-year stint writing the “Nihonshu” column in the Japan Times (Japan’s most widely read English language newspaper). He followed that with a weekly column on sake in Japanese for the Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan’s and the world’s most widely distributed Japanese newspaper. He has published six books on sake across two languages, hundreds of articles on the topic (see Articles & Books), publishes a free monthly newsletter and offers various digital products that make sake easily understandable.
His latest book, Sake Confidential, is – as the title indicates – a beyond-the-basics guide to understanding, tasting, selecting and enjoying sake.
He is the co-founder and content editor of the world’s first and only sake-only magazine, Sake Today, which was founded in January of 2014.
Known as “The Sake Guy,” and “The Sake Evangelist,” John has been quoted and/or mentioned in sake related articles in countless publications including The New York Times, Newsweek, Forbes, Business Week, and Rolling Stone. He has spoken at Harvard, Yale, and Columbia Universities, Wharton School of Business, and countless other venues across the US and Japan.
John is the only non-Japanese certified Master of Sake Tasting in the world, as administered by the Nihon Jouzo Kyoukai, or Brewing Society of Japan, the organization that, among other things, provides the majority of yeast strains to the brewing industry. He has also achieved the very difficult Sake Expert Assessor certification from Japan’s National Research Institute of Brewing. No other non-Japanese in the world has both of these certifications. Learn more about them elsewhere on this site.
He is furthermore the only non-Japanese to have won the “Kikizake Meijin” (Accomplished Sake Taster) award, presented by the Junsui Nihonshu Kyoukai (Pure Sake Association) for accuracy in sake tasting skills, an award he has won three times, in March 2001, March 2003, and March 2006.
In 2006, he was awarded the Sake Samurai designation the very first year it was awarded by the Junior Council of the Japan Sake and Shochu Producer’s Association, for helping to promote sake and sake culture around the world.
In May of 2015, he became the first and only non-Japanese – and in fact the first person outside of the sake industry – to participate as a tasting judge in the final tasting round of the Zenkoku Shinshu Kampyoukai, or National New Sake Competition, the most prestigious sake tasting competition in the industry. He is also the only non-Japanese to have provided regular sake-related consulting assistance in the form of lectures to the sake-brewing industry and the government of Japan via the auspices of the National Tax Administration. He is the only non-Japanese to sit on the panel of the Award for the Promotion of Japanese Cuisine Overseas, an award assessed by the Ministry of Forestry and Fisheries in Japan.
Several times each year, he runs the Sake Professional Course, a week-long intensive sake study course, held both in and outside of Japan, as well as the advanced level of that course. He formed and currently sits as the chairman of the Sake Education Council, a non-profit organization that overseas sake certification testing. More than 1200 people from ten countries have been certified and are recognized through this organization.
Most of each winter he finds himself traveling around Japan, visiting breweries regularly and constantly learning. He holds semi-seminars in Tokyo in English for the expat community, or those just passing through. Other efforts at educating and edifying about sake include a free monthly sake newsletter and various digital products and e-books available for purchase and immediate download in the Educational Products section.
John is available for seminars on sake, as well as consulting on sake-related projects. Interested parties please contact John directly.
John Gauntner becomes the first and only non-Japanese to become certified as both a Sake Expert Assessor, as bestowed by the National Research Institute of Brewing, and as a Master of Sake Tasting as bestowed by Nihon Jouzou Kyoukai, the “Brewing Society of Japan.
About these certifications
On July 29 and 30, 2010, I successfully passed the remaining two sections of the very rigorous tasting exam given by the National Research Institute of Brewing. This is the only government-related sake certification in existence. I became only the second non-Japanese person – and only one of 38 people – to be certified as a Sake Expert Assessor.
This follows my certification as the only non-Japanese Master of Sake Tasting, bestowed by the Brewing Society of Japan (Nihon Jouzou Kyoukai), which I accomplished in June of 2010.
I am the only non-Japanese person to have accomplished the combination of these two certifications.
Amidst my gratitude at having passed, I only ask that I be able to use this in such a way as to further the understanding and enjoyment – not to mention the consumption – of sake everywhere around the world.