To start with, The Sake Handbook goes over each step involved in making sake. Reading through the intricate processes involved helps you understand why there are so many varieties of sake, and why each one has a different flavor. One key step, for example, is the polishing step. The inner part of the rice generally is of higher quality than the outer portion, so the more 'extra' that is polished away, the finer the sake.
Next, Gauntner goes over the various types of sake, and how each is unique. Some of these terms are:
* Junmai-shu is pure rice sake. Only rice, water, and the koji mold are used to produce this top level sake. It ends up tasting heavier and fuller than other types of sake. It uses less than 70% polished rice - this means they have `ground away' the other 30% of impurities.
* Honjozo-shu has a small amount of distilled ethyl alcohol added during the final stages. They then add water later so the alcohol content stays the same. This sake is lighter and dryer than other types. It can be served warm.
* Ginjo-shu uses 60% polished rice. It is also fermented for longer periods of time, giving a complex and delicate flavor.
* Daiginjo-shu is just like Ginjo-shu, but polished to 50% of the original size. It takes even longer to brew and complete. Futsuu-shu - any sake which does not fall into one of the above four categories.
Gauntner describes how sake is tasted, and how an individual can learn to distinguish between various sakes, and figure out the 'type' best suited for his or her palate. To help with this, the entire second half of the book is dedicated to a brand-by-brand evaluation of the best sakes on the market. This is invaluable! No matter if you're in Tokyo or Chicago, you can bring this book in with you to a store or restaurant and compare with ease the various sakes available.
There even is a section towards the back listing the best sake restaurants in Japan. If you're going on a trip to Japan, bring this book along, and know what to order and any special rules about each location.
With each of the sake detailed, the author provides tasting notes and information about other sakes from the same brewer.
As a side note of the detail of the book, one of my Japanese friend's found her favourite sake in the book. I went to my local bottle shop with the book, pointed to the picture of the label and found we found it, leading to a night of entertaining drinking.