Mel Liew learned the art of brewing sake years ago in Palm Beach, Miami, where she studied and worked part-time as a waitress. In 2007, she opened a restaurant-sakaya in Penang and introduced sake to beginners thanks to infused sakes.
Did you know: Sakaya is a Japanese word that refers to a liquor store or sake merchant.
Long story short, Mel’s interest in sake has been brewing for a long time. But they are not his only passion. Later, she decided to sell her resto-bar to start her first learning center. Mel has been in education for 12 years, running a nursery and preparatory school.
During the pandemic, she unfortunately had to close five centers. The school has since pivoted to become a full-fledged online platform. With more free time, she started thinking about doing something different.
Although she hasn’t brewed sakes for over a decade, Mel decided to go back to something familiar and launched her own brand of infused sakes in September 2021.
“I remembered the past and how different industries led to different work personalities,” Mel said. “The educator is kind and patient, the restorer is intense and firm. Having been in teaching for so long (and I’m grateful for that), I felt that I had lost a part of myself that I wanted back. Thereby, Moromi.”
Start of infusions
In the beginning, Mel made his sake at home, meticulously tending to every aspect of the process. She only uses Junmai sake to brew so the result is smooth and palatable.
“When sipping Moromi, the opening note is the fresh, natural taste of the fruit, and the Junmai sake is the finishing note,” Mel explained.
Junmai is the Japanese word for “pure rice”. Pure rice sake is brewed only with rice, water, yeast, and koji (a filamentous fungus used in alcohol brewing), while non-pure rice sake usually contains additives such as sugar or alcohol.
The infusion process can take anywhere from five days to a month, depending on what is infused. Something like ginger only takes a day to steep, while mango takes six weeks.
OG: Pineapple, a Moromi signature, takes three to four weeks depending on the sweetness and age of the pineapples. The whole process depends a lot on the ingredients.
The supply of ingredients must therefore be rigorous. To do this, Mel has built strong relationships with local fruit stall owners so she can have the perfect supply of fruit.
Mel draws inspiration from her own life to develop new flavors, often drawing inspiration from her days spent on Florida beaches and Latin-influenced bars.
Take sake seriously
The Moromi journey began with 20 bottles of The OG: Pineapple Sake. Mel posted the brewed sake on his personal Instagram page, and they sold out within a day.
“The sakes I bought at first were ready to use,” Mel recalls. “It was an expensive hobby!”
His first batch sold validated Moromi’s potential. Although it started out as a side project for Mel, sake brewing quickly grew into something more. Moromi is no longer just an infused sake brand. It is now a bar in its own right.
“Two months into Moromi’s launch, I engaged with a wide range of female-led collaborators,” Mel explained. “As the traction started to build, I realized we needed to formalize and solidify our backbone in terms of business setup and distribution channels.”
With that in mind, Mel began looking for a physical outlet to transform into a private sakaya. Previously, she had already spent RM3K to start Moromi, but a real bar is another story.
But Mel believed in his plan, and his track record of selling nearly a thousand bottles between October 2021 and February 2022 bears that out. She thus started the bar, which cost RM180K to build and equip.
“I will be releasing another RM50K in preparation for our grand opening in May,” Mel said. The funds will go towards interior decoration and improving operations.
The bar opened on March 11 and, a few weeks later, Mel said the reception had been great. As a private sakaya, it only takes reservations instead of meeting. The location also serves as an experience center and a sake distribution warehouse.
Allowing consumers to experience infused sakes first-hand at the center is a good way to foster appreciation and adoption of the drink, as it’s safe to say that Malaysians are more accustomed to Western-style infused drinks. So far, if you’ve googled “Malaysian infused sake,” Moromi is the first, if not the only, brand to pop up.
So far, Mel has noticed that brewed sake appeals mostly to women between the ages of 28 and 45. However, with the physical outlet, Moromi is able to target not only sake drinkers as they consume craft gin, prized whiskeys and a wide range of premium sakes.
The educator is already looking to get into more bars. Her past experiences allowed her to quickly get the ball rolling with Moromi, despite having to balance the multiple hats she wears.
“I now have two full-time jobs and four hours of sleep a day,” Mel revealed. “Consistency, conviction and intention play a huge role in how we build our own achievements, regardless of industry.”
Take it from Mel, who has experience serving as a waitress in sunny Florida, running a resto-bar in Penang and raising children in Kuala Lumpur. And of course, now owning the infused sake brand, Moromi.
- Learn more about Moromi here.
- Read more articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.
Featured Image Credit: Mel Liew, Founder of Moromi