Mar 18, 2010

Niigata Report 2 -- Niigata Sake Expert Certification "Gold Grade" Test

Niigata Seishu Tatsujin Kentei (Niigata Sake Expert Certification Test) began to be held annually from the year before last. This certification test checks Niigata sake knowledge of the examinees. There are currently three expert grades: bronze, silver, and gold experts. The bronze expert test is the easiest and, in the gold expert test, the highest grade test, examinees are tested also for their ability of sake tasting. I went in for the bronze the year before last and for silver last year. Fortunately, I passed both. On March 14 of this year, I again visited Toki Messe Niigata Convention Center to take an exam for the gold.

The examinees for the gold grade were to be judged by the contents of their essays submitted beforehand and by the performance of a sake tasting ability test, which was conducted on March 14. In this sake tasting test, the examinees tasted 10 sakes.

Most of the 58 examinees are male, and there were probably two or three female examinees among them. They were divided into three group so that each group has 20 members except the last group of 18. Each group was called in sequence to the tasting room.

Now, I explain how the test was conducted below.

The tasting room was further divided into two partitions. In the first partition, there were two tasting benches consisting of several contiguously placed tables. On each tasting bench were two rows of sake bottles and in each sake bottle row were arranged 10 sake bottles. So, there were four sake bottle rows. The bottles in each row were labeled as "イ" to "ヌ" (katakana characters). The sakes in this partition are called group A sake. When the 20 examinees enter the first partition, they were given tasting glasses and then they went to the front of sake bottles so that 5 people stood in front of each row.

In front of me were the bottles labeled as "ト" and "チ." When the time keeper called out, "Start," we began the tasting using the tasting glass handed over to each person. After tasting the sake with "ト" and "チ," I moved to another bottle that was not being tasted by anyone else. Thus, I tasted 10 sakes.

When tasting the sake, we were allowed to take notes of impressions or characters of each sake. We were given 15 minutes for the tasting of group A, and informed of the time when it was five minutes and one minutes before the end of the group A tasting. When the time keeper called "Stop," so did we.

Then, we moved into the next partition. This place had similar setting to that of the previous partition: the same table setting and same arrangement of sake bottles. The only exception is that the bottles in this partition were labeled as "1" to "10." The sakes in this partition are called group B sake.

As we did before, we tasted the 10 sakes and took notes of impressions or characters of each sake. Then, we filled out the answer sheet to match the sakes in group A with those in group B in one-to-one correspondence (on the answer sheet were fields indicated as "イ" to "ヌ" and the examinees were to write the correct number in each field). We had also 15 minutes for group B, but this time included the time required for filling out the answer sheet, so I started writing the numbers in the sheet when I heard the last minute call.

Thus, the above was how the test was conducted. Actually, the test was very difficult and I had a hard time. It was difficult to find remarkable characters in each sake. There are only two or three sakes I think I could match correctly. I felt the given time of 30 minutes was quite short.

I am not sure what the admission criteria of this test are, but anyway I did my best and I can do nothing about the future outcome. If I fail to pass the test, at least I will need to train myself for the next year's test in a systematic manner to develop my sake tasting skills to a higher level.

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