THIRD TIME LUCKY
Meet Joshua Kalinan Sinnathamby, the first Singaporean sommelier to be crowned Sake Sommelier of the Year by the International Sake Sommelier Association
Joshua Kalinan Sinnathamby is the first Singaporean sommelier to be crowned Sake Sommelier of the Year
It has been a long journey to success for Joshua Kalinan Sinnathamby. Certainly, when the 52-year-old first joined Singapore Airlines as a flight steward all those years ago—26, to be exact—he would not have guessed that he would represent the airline in one of the world’s most prestigious sake competitions. On 20 May this year, after two prior attempts in 2015 and 2016, Joshua finally took top spot to be crowned the Sake Sommelier of the Year by the International Sake Sommelier Association.
The competition was held at the Millennium Hotel in Knightsbridge, London, and pitted him against sake sommeliers around the world on blind tasting, food pairing and of course, service and knowledge.
“I am overjoyed but do not want my success to cloud my mind as I am still learning about sake,” says Joshua modestly. “I am happy to represent Singapore and Singapore Airlines on the world stage. Winning definitely makes me feel recognised for all my hard work and effort.” We’ll kanpai to that!
I am fascinated by sake, its interesting history, its fermentation process and just the sheer variety of sake available. Sake is also unique because it can be paired not just with Japanese food, but also with other international cuisine such as Chinese, Western and even Indian cuisine.
People often mistake sake as a very potent drink and think that it could knock out anyone who drinks it. There is also the misconception that sake is made through distillation rather than fermentation. From my very first encounter with sake to winning Sake Sommelier of the Year, the journey has not been easy. Sake is a Japanese drink, and all the labels are in Japanese. There are not many English books on sake available and I don’t speak Japanese, so I had to start learning the labels just like a baby learning to crawl.
I also travelled and visited sake breweries in Japan in order to learn and experience the world of sake. It was all very costly—to buy the various sakes to taste and travel to different parts of Japan.
This is my third attempt at the competition. I was inspired by the many success stories of world-class runners and Formula One drivers. I was also spurred on by my own life—some of my teachers thought I was a slow learner and that I will not succeed in life. However, with perseverance and hard work, I am sure anybody can accomplish anything.
I started preparing for the competition last year. I decided to take part in it again, despite knowing that I am a nonpracticing sake sommelier compared to the other competitors, who are professionally trained in sake.
I read books, publications and industry news on sake in order to keep up to date with trends. I also visited breweries to learn new and ancient methods of making sake. That allowed me to taste a wider variety of sake. In addition, I continued to brush up my kanji (Chinese characters in written Japanese) skills in order to read sake labels.
Time was always a big challenge. I had to juggle my work and family, and I tried my best not procrastinate. I did not have a buddy to spar with, and it was very lonely at times to do it all by myself.
I love sharing my knowledge of sake with the customers on board as well as with my fellow cabin crew colleagues. I also get excited when I’m able to engage in a conversation with the Toji (brew master) over what I have learnt from attending courses in sake and shochu.
A sommelier must be humble and willing to learn from anybody, such as the elderly Japanese workers who have been working in the sake industry longer than any one of us. Humility is key.
If I had not become a sommelier, I would have ended up being a chef.