Sunset Park’s Industry City has officially welcomed New York City’s first sake brewery, Brooklyn Kura.
The new business, which had a successful soft opening earlier this month at 68 34th Street in the massive waterfront complex, is ready to change how people think of sake, not just in Brooklyn, but the entire country.
Using four deceptively simple ingredients—American-grown rice, koji, Brooklyn water and yeast—Brooklyn Kura utilizes time-honored techniques to craft a sake that is subtle yet complex. It is currently on sale at the brewery. Surprisingly, there are only 15 other sake breweries in the United States.
Co-founder and President of Brooklyn Kura Brian Polen discussed how the business blossomed into the success that it is today.
“Essentially, my partner Brandon [Doughan] and I met in Japan,” he said. “It was serendipity. We met at a mutual friend’s wedding and ended up traveling the country. Brandon is kind of a research scientist, biochemist. On that trip, we spent a lot of time talking about the range, complexity, quality and affordability of sake in Japan and were surprised by the fact that more people weren’t trying to make this drink that we had some exposure to but really fell for on that trip, in the U.S.”
Doughan began experimenting with sake recipes and blending his knowledge of Japanese technique with Brooklyn ingredients.
The two talked about making sake at home. When they went home and started brewing it in Brooklyn, the quality was better than they had expected.
“It was encouraging,” Polen said. “That motivated us to do other things like learn about the market and think about [opening] a business. We came to learn that most of the sake consumed in the U.S. is made in California. I thought it was Japan but that’s not the case.”
Polen and Doughan started to learn more about premium sake and put together a plan to home brew; they then made the decision to leave their jobs and start the brewery, which took place in September, 2016.
“We found a space at the old Pfizer facility in Bushwick and we were there for a year,” said Polen. “Our goal was to figure stuff out, such as supply chain, equipment, defining recipes and improving our quality.”
Then came the idea of moving.
“In March, 2017, we secured a lease at Industry City,” he said. “In June, we started construction and then in December we started our first commercial production. We sold our first sake bottle on January 7 which was really cool.”
So far, the reception has been positive.
“We’ve had so much support from the sake community,” said Polen. “We have a long road but we’ve been very lucky. We sort of launched the taproom a few weeks ago and refined our venue, updating it as new sake is available and trying to get as much feedback as possible in anticipation of [the official launch] on Friday, March 2.”
The two believe that Brooklyn Kura and Industry City are the perfect match.
“I think Sunset Park is a special place,” he said. “It’s tough to start a brewery in New York City primarily because of the availability of spaces that are zoned appropriately to do this type of work, so Industry City and its objective of creating this dynamic maker retail community and its plans around some of the other manufacturers and retailers that were coming on line made it perfect for us. Not only did we not have to worry about the zoning challenges some breweries deal with but we were in a place that is being heavily invested in with a whole bunch of companies. It’s a great support network for us.”
They are also thrilled to bring something new to the city.
“It’s hard to do something unique in New York City,” Polen said. “There are so many people that are so skilled that think about new things all the time. We fell for sake and were more into the business because we would be the first to do it here. Being the first is great. It draws attention to what we’re doing and hopefully [will help us] sell our sake and educate people, but I’m sure we’re not going to be the last.
“I’m excited to show people the process through the production of sake,” he added. “Most people have been to a beer brewery or winery. Most haven’t been to sake one. We put a lot of thought into our taproom as a simple, beautiful functional space where we can conduct events, so we can drive more people to Industry City. We’re fans of Japanese culture in general. We are American guys making sake because we love the drink and think we can make it well and share it with American audiences, but we do expect our sake that emerges from the U.S. sake brewery scene to be distinctive.”
The official opening is Friday, March 2. For more information, go to www.brooklynkura.com.