Sushi has always been classically paired with sake, but now the Mins Group — known for its restaurants Tamashisoul, Sushi Hon, Izakaya Hon, and Sushi Hakko — is all-in on an ambitious project to brew beers specifically made to pair with Sushi Sato’s omakase offerings. To get the project off the ground, the group tapped local brewmaster Dave McLean, co-founder of Admiral Maltings in Alameda, founder and former owner of Magnolia Brewing and the Alembic. “We serve some Japanese beers and they sort of pair well with sushi and realized that the demand is there,” Mins Group marketing director James Liao says. “So we wanted to take that into our own hands and see if we can essentially make a beer and then pair that with the sushi as well.”
The seven-barrel brewery is in the basement of Sushi Sato, and the first stills went in — through a hole cut in the floor of the restaurant, McLean mentions — in February 2020. This new collaboration is the second instance of McLean setting up a basement brewery in San Francisco, he notes, similar to how he got things rolling at the Haight Street outpost of Magnolia Brewing. It’s also a full-circle moment: he’s using malt from his own Admiral Maltings to brew the beer at Sushi Sato. He started the company in Alameda with two partners to produce locally-made malt and avoid having to use malt from England and Germany, which results in a large carbon footprint due to shipping the product to California. With these new beers, he’s using 95 percent California-grown malt made from within 100 miles of San Francisco. “This is what I’ve always wanted,” McLean says. “This is what I’ve always thought was the next frontier for brewing: to be making truly regional, truly local beer using locally grown, locally malted grain.”
Four beers are currently on tap at Sushi Sato, available by the glass or as a tasting flight. Blossoms Blooming is a malt-forward, German-inspired ale; Morning Comes, a pale ale; Fine Connection, a rice IPA; and Little Bolt, an English-style golden ale. McLean says he hadn’t created a series of beers meant to pair with the delicate flavors of sushi before. While Magnolia’s beer paired with its “California-ized, English farm-to-table food,” McLean says, the Sushi Sato beers are purposefully different — but still employ his beermaking sensibilities. “The principles of beer and food pairing don’t change,” McLean says. “It’s really about identifying flavor hooks and understanding which way that beer is going to connect with that food. Is it a contrast, is it complementary, is it matching with intensity levels? Those principles I feel pretty at home with since it’s all I’ve done, my adult life.”
In Liao’s estimation, it’s a unique pairing of beer and sushi counter. “It is not common to have a tasting menu with beer, because often the chefs don’t characterize beer as something that’s light enough to go with sushi,” Liao says noting that beer is typically more carbonated and hoppier than other beverages. “So we’ve chosen to sort of fine tune and reduce that,” he says. Given the quieter, focused nature of the omakase menu setting of Sushi Sato, it made more sense to pay more attention to detail with the beer, he adds.
The project marks a formal return to brewing for McLean, who’s been spending more time on the supply side with Admiral Maltings and participating in collab brews at other breweries. This allows him to once again flex his brewmaster skills and start a challenging beer program from scratch, which he finds exciting. “I have always liked the start-up and build-up process, and putting stuff together,” McLean says. “All the little challenges, all the little things that go wrong, but it’s a lot of fun, having an opportunity to start from a blank slate and have a hand in guiding the program forward.”