Pop Culture and Japan

How To Start A Sake Brewery Outside Of Japan (Sake On Air Review)

Zenkuro and Melbourne Sake are two breweries outside of Japan that are bringing more awareness to sake.

In Japan, sakagura (sake breweries) carry a rich history of tradition that’s lasted for hundreds of years. It’s little wonder that tradition has inspired people outside of the country to embark on their own sake journeys and set up their own breweries.

There’s definitely a lot of romanticism to the idea. But what’s the reality of trying to set up your own  brewery like? The Sake On Air podcast has the answers. Co-hosts Justin Potts, Marie Nagata, Chris Hughes and Sebastien Lemoine sat down to talk to the founders of two sake breweries to get their thoughts.

Building breweries in New Zealand and Australia

The team interviewed David Joll, owner and head brewer of Zenkuro, a sake brewery located in Queenstown, New Zealand. He was joined by Mathew Kingsley-Shaw, co-founder of the fledging Melbourne Sake brewery.

Both men demonstrated their tremendous passion for sake and what the realties of setting up a brewery is like. A lot of hard work goes into it and they discussed some of the practical challenges such as:

  • Finding the right equipment outside of Japan e.g. pressing machines
  • Sourcing the correct ingredients like koji
  • Providing education for consumers in non-traditional sake markets

Having worked with David at Zenkuro, Marie also shared stories of being at the brewery. Long hours, a cold environment and labour intensive tasks are all part of the brewing process, instilling a respect for nihonshu craftsmanship.

Overcoming hurdles

It was interesting to listen to how Matt and David deal with these challenges on a regular basis. One example is sourcing freeze dried koji from Japan, which eases the stress of one of the many variables that goes into sake production. Matt made a great point by saying for a brewery that’s just starting out it’s worth streamlining the process as much as possible.

Another brewery challenge is making sure the right licensing is in place. Under tax rules in the state of Victoria, sake is classified as wine, bringing a new set of obstacles that Matt has needed to overcome to make Melbourne Sake a reality.

But with all the graft comes a sense of satisfaction. It’s clear that Matt and David are extremely passionate about brewing and they’ll continue to bring more awareness to the sake industry for years to come.

When asked what the best advice would be for someone who’s interested in starting their own sake brewery, both men shared the following:

  • Be ready for it to be as hard as it sounds
  • Commit to self-education and raising awareness for non-sake drinkers
  • Start off small and focus on a handful of products
  • Keep on refining and practicing the brewing process

Sake On Air split the Zenkuro and Melbourne Sake conversations into two episodes. Listen to the first part here and the second part here.

2 thoughts on “How To Start A Sake Brewery Outside Of Japan (Sake On Air Review)

  1. I met Matt at Sake Matsuri in Melbourne last year and some of his stories about their experimentation were very funny. It’s super exciting that we may soon have a local sake to enjoy!


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