Japan House London along with the Japan sake and shochu makers association, has recently put together a three-part webinar series on the drinks of Japan. Fortunately, I was able to watch all three parts in the series as Japan House London live-streamed the events on YouTube.
The series highlights differences between sake; the term we in the U.K use to refer to Japanese rice wine, also known as Nihonshu in Japan; and Shochu which is a single distilled spirit. It covers the processes used to make each type of drink, the variations, and the origins, as well as seeing the conditions they are produced in, along with a plethora of industry experts.
Before I truly begin, I want to point out that previously — for me — the thought of watching webinars and other online presentations is enough to instantly send me to sleep. It sends me back to my school days, as I watch and yawn my way through yet another PowerPoint presentation; read word for word from the screen, with a monotone voice. Wonderful.
Thankfully, after finishing the series I can say — for the most part — that this isn’t the case here.
At times, the information that is presented does take the form of a PowerPoint or Keynote slide; It is mixed in with other styles of presenting and media however, which keeps it all quite fresh and engaging.
Before the event, my knowledge about the drinks of Japan consisted of little more than “they’re a liquid”. By the end however, I feel I could honestly hold a conversation, know what to order in a restaurant or look for in a shop or even impart a few grains of wisdom.
The progression of the series starts off very well. The initial stream: Exploring Nihonshu creates a solid foundation well suited for people like myself with next to no knowledge. It runs through the varieties of sake, what makes it different to other alcohol, and how it is made, among other interesting topics. Part one is quite fact heavy but not so much as to overwhelm, rather it kept me interested in knowing there was more than meets the eye.
I feel this is the idea behind the whole series and for the most part achieves that; however, the following webinar: Introducing Shochu, is less concise in its delivery resulting into feeling slightly less engaged and raising more questions. This is however, where the series becomes more interesting for viewers who already have a grasp with sake and Shochu. They would be able to use existing knowledge to bridge what would otherwise be missed and further cement their understanding.
That all being said, I learnt too much to be able to successfully convey it in a single post, but want to share a selection of interesting topics that are covered in the drinks of Japan series.
- Rice Polishing and its relation to quality.
- The characteristics and benefits of drinking sake.
- The importance of brewery and distillery construction and location.
- Processes used to make shochu and the varieties.
- How temperature is an important factor when drinking and pairing.
- How to determine what foods and drinks go together.
These topics provide some surprising and interesting information. It is also these moments that make you feel like you are genuinely gaining knowledge that you will remember. This is all helped by how each webinar is presented; I will talk about this more in a while.
Part three: Sake pairings and Shochu cocktails, I feel was less informative than the previous instalments. That’s not to say there isn’t anything to take away, but as just mentioned above the previous sessions had surprising and interesting information. Part three, I feel, does not. Also, two-thirds of this particular webinar; unfortunately, made my mind slip back into that opening school day scenario and almost lost complete interest.
So, the challenge to online webinars and presentations is how do you help maintain interest? Its certainly more difficult than face-to-face interaction but unfortunately with current circumstances as they are, it’s become a necessary question.
In truth, this series does it very well. Simon Wright who is the director of programming at Japan House London is the host for all three parts of the event. He brings a great enthusiasm throughout but also give the impression that he is learning himself as well. As strange as it sounds it makes you feel more involved with what is happening so props to him for that.
What I haven’t talked much about up to this point is how, as part of the audience, we are taken all the way to japan to the Shirataki brewery and the Komasa distillery. These were both part of the Exploring Nihonshu and Discover Shochu webinars, respectively. This offers the rare chance to see inside each production building and speak to the Japanese owners and managers, whilst also asking questions at the end of each session. Where else could you say you’ve done that? I think that would be hard to manage even in Japan.
What helped keep the presentations fluid was the nine sake and shochu experts on hand across the series. Each represents and explains a different speciality within the sake and shochu industry; it keeps the session fresh and engaging. The inclusion of Quiz’s and video is a welcome change and an example of what they did well.
Ultimately, it’s what you learn that deems whether webinars like these are worthwhile or not. For me, I learnt a lot more about the drinks of Japan than I started off with; it also provided a base where I can research more should I want to. If you already have some working knowledge, then you’ll probably pick and understand more than I did; there is a lot of great information there to be had.
All parts are available to watch on YouTube so if you didn’t catch the livestream you can still access them. Here are the links below.
- First part – Exploring Nihonshu: Sake brewery visit and introduction.
- Second part – Discover Shochu: Distillery visit and introduction.
It’s probably a good time to note that this all these webinars were free to view and an invaluable resource in the time of lockdown. The only real currency then to bear in mind is, was it worth my time?