Toji Sake was launched last year by Yuta Kobayashi and his wife Sharlyn. The pair teamed up with a toji (master sake brewer) in Niigata, Japan, a region known for its “crisp, dry, light sake”, and produced a junmai daiginjo-style (the highest premium style) product.
Now, the duo has launched a junmai ginjo-style.
“The main difference with our two products is the rice we use, as well as the yeast we use,” says Kobayashi. “This changes the flavour profile and aroma.”
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The variance between the two products is subtle. Both have a gentle sweetness and a short, dry finish, but while the flavour profile of the first offers hints of apple, the second has a light kiwifruit aroma.
“We just want people to love it as much as we do,” Kobayashi says. “It’s such a pure product, four ingredients – water, yeast, rice and koji, a naturally occurring enzyme. Our water is from the Asahi Mountain Range. It’s melted snow pumped underground into the brewery.”
Kobayashi says the water from the snow gives the sake a “smooth and clean finish.” Rather than drinking it from a traditional sake cup, he recommends a wine glass. He’s also a fan of adding a splash of tonic and a slice of lime, drinking it like many people drink gin. There’s increasing interest sake as a cocktail ingredient, too.
Sash has a number of sake and fruit infusions on its menu, and cocktails such as Yuzu Cheesecake, which uses yuzu, sake, lemon and green tea. Kid Kyoto highlights sake across its cocktail list. Their Niigata Chicano combines mezcal, coconut, mint and soda with sake.
It’s not just how we drink sake that Kobayashi wants to change, but also what we pair it with. He says premium sakes that are light in flavour can be paired with a range of foods, not just Japanese staples such as sashimi or tempura.
“We’re serving it in places like Shannon Bennett’s Iki Jime, which is all seafood, but it’s not Japanese food,” he says. “Seafood matches really well with its light flavours. We want to modernise [sake] now and pair it with all types of food.”
Food has always been part of Kobayashi’s life. His dad is a classically trained chef, and moved the family from Japan to Melbourne when Kobayashi was two.
“My mum and my dad loved the country so much we ended up staying. I grew up watching him in the kitchen,” Kobayashi says. “He was a French chef originally, came here with nothing as a family, started a restaurant [Samurai] in Hawthorn, and it’s still there 26 years on.”
Despite living here most of his life, Kobayashi says he has memories of visiting Japan and watching his grandpa and uncles drink sake during family gatherings. That’s what makes sake so special to him.
“I’m really proud of this because it’s my grandpa, but also my affiliation with where I was born and I still hold that really close to my heart.”