Haruo Matsuzaki raises the small glass to his nose, sniffs for but a couple of seconds, and takes in a small sip. Slurping in a bit of air, he scribbles for a few seconds into his ever-present tiny notebook, finally expelling the sake into the spittoon next to the table. On to the next.

His calm outward demeanor belies a myriad of assessments of flavor and fragrance, for once he tastes a sake, it's in his head for good.

Such is the working life of Matsuzaki, sake critic extraordinaire. There are plenty of sake hyoronka (critics), but none can match the palate of Matsuzaki. He is perhaps the most respected critic in the industry, especially among the brewers themselves. Author of books, consultant to sake brewers and traveling lecturer, he works totally independently, unconnected to any single brewery or group of breweries.