For the past few years, I've harbored a secret dream — an extremely nerdy ambition unlikely to be shared by anyone other than the hardest of hard-core sake and wine geeks. That dream is to become a master taster.

I've always envied those who could take a sip and comment with insouciance on the amount of ethyl caproate in sake or diacetyl in wine. I've always wanted to take the sensory evaluation course offered by the National Research Institute of Brewing (NRIB), a month-long series of classes that cover the physical and chemical mechanisms behind the aromas and flavors in sake. There's just one minor glitch: The course is only available in Japanese and the highly technical lectures and readings would test in the worst possible way.

Last month, however, my wish came true. While traveling around Japan with an international group of educators who were preparing to become teachers for a new sake course launched by the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), I visited the NRIB headquarters in Hiroshima Prefecture to participate in an intensive one-day seminar led by Genki Ono, director of the institute's technology division. This lecture included simultaneous English-language interpretation provided as part of the teacher training.