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.

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