The Pitch: Melbourne Sake

Published on 1 February 2022

Photo: Melbourne Sake is here.

A local sake that pairs as well with pizza as it does sushi.

Melbourne Sake is a craft sake brewery that uses Australian rice to ferment small batches of complex yet quaffable local sake. Started in 2019 by Matt Kingsley Shaw (a former MoVida beverage director) and Quentin Hanley (a Grossi and Cumulus Up alumnus), the company aims to make as many people as possible fall in love with sake the same way they did: by having their eyes opened to the unique spectrum of scents and flavours, crazy versatility and food-matching possibilities of good sake. 

We talk to Hanley and Kingsley Shaw about their rice-booze journey and why they think you’re going to like what they’re pouring.

Who are you and what are you all about?
We are two gluttonous and endlessly thirsty hospo pros who love absolutely everything food and booze. This is never truer than with innovative and honestly made local products, using the plethora of amazing raw ingredients and possibilities in Victoria.

The genesis of Melbourne Sake is we were both working in great Melbourne restaurants and loving the explosion of craft beverages all around us. Around the same time, we were sent tumbling down the sake rabbit hole after a mind-blowing trade tasting with Black Market Sake and a frankly ridiculous meal at (the sadly departed) Kappo on Flinders Lane with heaps of matched sake. Minds blown. Over the years we grew increasingly frustrated that there was no great local craft sake being made, and after one too many long nights of sake “research,” we vowed to do it ourselves.

Give us the elevator pitch, what is Melbourne Sake?
Our mission is simple: make the best sake we can, using Australian rice, for Australia. Melbourne Sake is food-friendly, savoury, with a tasty lick of freshness and zippy moreish acidity.

How do you make it?
We combine steamed rice, koji (a unique kind of magic mould that grows on rice and turns starch into sugar), special sake yeast and water to make Melbourne Sake. The koji converts the starch from the rice into sugar. The yeast eats that sugar, which causes fermentation that gives us all the tasty things we want in sake: aromas, flavours, texture and alcohol. Unlike the vast majority of sake out there, ours is unfiltered, undiluted and unpasteurised, making it an alive, vibrant and honest representation of our fermentation (and all the more delicious for it).

What excites you about this project?
Absolutely every part of it. We both left our great roles at awesome restaurants to focus on starting the brewery, such is our belief in what we are doing. We fell in love with sake due to its unique possibility of aromas and flavours and its amazing ability and incredible versatility in matching with all sorts of great food. We really want to show people this and being able to do so with a sake we have made ourselves from Aussie-grown rice is absolutely exhilarating.

As things stand, we are the only sake brewery in Australia, and it’s exciting for us that we’re trying to ignite a whole new craft beverage industry and can’t wait for others to join us in the sake revolution.

What are the perfect conditions to enjoy Melbourne Sake?
Whenever you would want a glass of interesting and exciting but quaffable white wine, at white-wine temperature, out of a white wine glass. At a restaurant or bar before or with food, at home on the sofa in front of The Sopranos, in the park with your mates. These are just some of the occasions we have enjoyed it this week.

We work hard to build acidity and freshness into our sake to balance the savoury character. We think this pitches our sake right in the sweet spot of refreshing yet cerebral, giving people great versatility to do loads with it.

One thing we are keen to do, is to nip in the bud the idea the sake is only good with Japanese food. That’s akin to saying wine should only be drunk with European food, or mezcal with Mexican (in other words, nonsense). Yes, sake is awesome with Japanese food and raw fish – please do drink our sake with it. But please give it a go with other cuisines.

Sake is so good with so many styles of food. For example, we adore sake with Italian food, thanks to the way the umami elements mingle together. If you don’t believe us, drink sake with pizza and tell us we’re wrong.

Is it here for a good time or a long time?
Both. Our main priority is Melbourne Sake and we are convinced we will be the pioneers of a vibrant and exciting Australian craft-sake scene.

Who’s pouring it?
Bar Liberty, Supernormal, Byrdi, MoVida, The Lincoln, Bar Ampere, Bijou, Mr West and Grossi Florentino with more to follow soon.

Where can I buy it?
Due to our first release being so small, it’s only available in venues for the time being, although some of the above venues with retail licenses may do you a takeaway bottle if you ask nicely.

Melbourne Sake, melbournesake.com.au@melbournesake.

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