Mel Liew picked up the art of infusing sake years ago in Palm Beach, Miami, where she was studying and working part-time as a waitress. In 2007, she opened a resto-sakaya in Penang and would introduce sake to beginners through infused sakes.
Did you know: Sakaya is a Japanese word that refers to a liquor store or sake dealer.
Long story short, Mel’s interest in sakes has been brewing for a long time. But they aren’t her only passion. She later decided to sell her resto-bar to start her first learning centre. For 12 years, Mel has been in education, running a preschool and preparatory school.
During the pandemic, she unfortunately had to close down five centres. The school has since pivoted to become a full-fledged online platform. With more time on her hands, she started thinking about doing something different.
Despite not having infused sakes for over a decade, Mel decided to return to something familiar and started her own brand of infused sakes in September 2021.
“I reminisced about the past and how different industries led to different working personalities,” Mel opened up. “Educator is kind and patient, restaurateur is intense and firm. Having been in education for so long (and I’m grateful for it), I felt that I had lost a part of me that I wanted to reclaim. Thus, Moromi.”
Initiating the infusions
At first, Mel prepared her sake at home, meticulously handling every aspect of the process. She only uses Junmai sake to infuse so that the result is smooth and palatable.
“When you sip Moromi, the introductory note is the fresh and natural taste of the fruits, and the Junmai sake trailing as the end note,” Mel explained.
Junmai is the Japanese word for “pure rice.” Pure rice sakes are brewed with only rice, water, yeast, and koji (a filamentous fungus used in alcohol brewing), while non-pure rice sake usually has additives such as sugar or alcohol.
The infusion process can take anywhere from five days to one month, depending on what is being infused. Something like ginger takes only one day to infuse, while mango takes six weeks.
OG: The Pineapple, a signature of Moromi, takes three to four weeks depending on the sweetness and age of the pineapples. The whole process is very much dependent on the ingredients.
The procurement of the ingredients thus has to be stringent. To do this, Mel built strong relationships with local fruit stall owners so she can have the ideal supply of fruits.
Mel takes inspiration from her own life when developing new flavours, often drawing from her days spent on Florida beaches and Latin-influenced bars.
Taking sake seriously
The Moromi journey began with 20 bottles of The OG: Pineapple Sake. Mel posted the infused sake on her personal Instagram page, and they sold out in one day.
“The sakes I had purchased in the beginning were off-the-shelf,” Mel recalled. “It was a costly hobby!”
Her first batch selling out validated Moromi’s potential. Although it started as a side project for Mel, infusing sakes has rapidly grown into something more. Moromi is no longer just a brand selling infused sake. It now is a full-on bar.
“Two months into launching Moromi, I engaged with a wide range of women-led collaborators,” Mel shared. “As the traction began to lift, I realised that we needed to formalise and solidify our backbone in terms of business setup and distribution channels.”
With this in mind, Mel began to look for a physical outlet to transform into a private sakaya. Previously, she had already spent RM3K to start Moromi, but an actual bar is a different story.
But Mel believed in her plan, and her track record of selling close to a thousand bottles between October 2021 and February 2022 backs that up. She thus bootstrapped the bar, which cost RM180K to build and outfit.
“I’ll be putting out another RM50K in preparation of our Grand Opening in May,” Mel said. The funds will be going towards interior decoration and operations improvement.
The bar opened its doors on March 11, and just a few weeks in, Mel reported that reception has been great. As a private sakaya, it only takes reservations instead of walk-ins. The location also serves as an experience centre and distribution warehouse for the sakes.
Allowing consumers to experience the infused sakes first-hand at the centre is a good way to foster appreciation and adoption of the drink, since it’s safe to say Malaysians are more used to Western-style infused drinks. So far, if you Googled “infused sake Malaysia”, Moromi is the first—if not the only—brand to pop up.
So far, Mel has noticed that the infused sake mostly attracts women between the age range of 28 to 45. However, with the physical outlet, Moromi is able to target not only sake drinkers as they take in crafted gin, prized whiskies, and a wide range of premium sakes.
The educator is already looking to get into more bars. Her past experiences have allowed her to quickly get the ball rolling with Moromi, despite having to balance the multiple hats she wears.
“I have two full-time jobs now and four hours of sleep daily,” Mel revealed. “Consistency, belief, and intention play a huge role in how we build our own achievements, regardless of industry.”
Take it from Mel, who has experienced being a waitress in sunny Florida, running a resto-bar in Penang, as well as educating children in Kuala Lumpur. And of course, to now owning the infused sake brand, Moromi.
Featured Image Credit: Mel Liew, Founder of Moromi