John Gauntner appreciates a great destination, but for him, it's really about the journey. With five books published on sake, and as the only non-Japanese to be recognized as a kikizake meijin (accomplished sake taster) for accuracy in sake tasting, Gauntner is widely considered the leading English-speaking expert on nihonshu.

Gauntner's journey with sake has taken him into breweries and back streets, onto the pages of Newsweek and Rolling Stone magazines, across America and into Europe, ringside with sumo and alongside the most accomplished brewers and chefs throughout Japan.

For Gauntner, it was one moment on a seemingly unrelated path that diverted his life's direction. "In the first several months I was here, I wasn't so interested in sake. I saw the hundreds of bottles lined up in department stores, and I thought, 'what's the big deal? They always heat it up and they all taste the same. ' "