Jessica Waugh. Photo courtesy Sk Delph

Jessica Waugh, the Assistant Director of Wine Education at Southern Glazer's Wine & Spirits and instructor of Sake Level One, is serious about sake. Her sake introduction seminar, held at the Southern Glazer’s Academy, is fast-paced, informative and completely immersed in Japanese culture and the tradition of sake making. 

We listened mesmerized as Jessica described, in detail, every step of the sake making process from the distribution of Koji-kin (mold spores) through the fermentation process to the final product. “The attention to detail that goes into making this unique beverage was what stood out most to me,” Jessica told us. “It is a very laborious process and the attention to detail required to produce high quality sake is absolutely fascinating!”

We tried twenty different pours of sake using a systematic approach to tasting that included appearance, nose and palate. The aroma and flavors of sake can range from banana and fig to honeydew melon and anise to cherry blossoms, and even further to cereals and grains, butter, yogurt and cheeses. There are even hints of coffee, honey and almond to name just a few. I enjoyed tasting every single one.

Jessica talked about going to Japan and watching the process herself. “Sake is made differently than any other beverage in the world!” Jessica explained, and that was an understatement. Even our lunch break (an amazing bento box delivered by Naked Fish) was educational. We watched a film of sake craftsmen making sake. At one stage they ran their fingers through the Koji rice like Buddhist monks in a Zen garden making perfect wave patterns to allow for optimal aeration. It was beautiful to watch. Everything about the fermentation process is exact in measurement, as well as time, from the number of days to hours and minutes and in some cases to the exact number of seconds. That o-choko and tokkuri (or Japanese sake set) filled with sake represents six months of hard labor and tender loving care. It's a cause for celebration. 

I asked Jessica why she had decided to specialize in sake? 

“It's actually a funny story: I was in a wine competition in 2012 and during the service portion of the competition we had four tables to attend. One of the tables strictly focused on sake and at the time I didn’t even know one producer of sake, so when asked what do I recommend, I replied back, ‘I apologize but we do not carry sake at this restaurant,’ and the judges looked at me with pure wonderment. My critique at the end of the competition was to work on my sake knowledge. Being someone that doesn’t like to fail or come up short, I made a challenge for myself to learn and understand this unique beverage, and now I am honored to open others' eyes up to how beautiful the world of sake is.”

Jessica grew up in Colorado and graduated with a degree in Architecture. “I am certified residentially in architecture and designed one house before realizing the industry wasn’t for me.”  

Jessica's background is food and beverage and after finishing college in the industry, she moved to Las Vegas in 2010.  “I started taking wine classes for fun and ended up falling into the business by way of an incredible teacher who saw something in me. She pushed me into my first wine job, junior sommelier at N9NE Steakhouse. I quickly moved up and became the head sommelier at Nove Italiano, as well as acting general manager. A couple years later I was recruited to become a sommelier for the Grand Award-winning wine list at Aureole Las Vegas. A little over a year later I was granted the opportunity to work with one of the best mentors in the industry and became a sommelier at Gordon Ramsay Steak. I passed my Advanced Sommelier exam with the highest score, earning the Rudd Scholarship fast tracking my path to becoming a Master Sommelier. In 2016 I was courted by SGWS to become a member of their team as the Assistant Director of Wine Education.”

Her qualifications are extensive: WSET Educator; Wine Scholar Guild Educator; Master Sommelier Candidate; French Wine Scholar; Italian Wine Professional; Certified Beer Server; and most important to this class, Advanced Sake Professional. That's an impressive list of credentials. 

In Jessica's words: “The world of Sake can seem daunting and hard to break into. I know it was for me! In 2018 I created the SGWS Academy of Sake and Fine Service to help break down the process of sake into easy-to-understand steps and open more eyes to this unique beverage. My goal and hope is to open as many eyes to this fascinating world as possible.”

Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits of Nevada offers a variety of classes for industry professionals on an assortment of topics, conducted in its state-of-the-art Academy room. For more info, visit: