By Joe Meny
The first sake brewery in NYC, Brooklyn Kura is dedicated to crafting and serving high-quality sake and building a new community of sake lovers in New York City.
With only 15 other sake breweries in the United States, the majority of which are based in California, Brooklyn Kura is at the forefront of a new category–American Craft Sake. Respecting the Japanese sake brewing traditions that have evolved over a thousand years, founders Brian Polen and Brandon Doughan are inspiring new interest in the ancient beverage with the application of unique American ingredients and a passion for the process.
After meeting in 2013 at a mutual friend’s wedding in Japan, Brian and Brandon discovered they shared an interest in high- quality sake and explored the country’s breweries together. Surprised by the range and quality of sake—there are over 10,000 different hyper-local sake across Japan—they wondered why more people hadn’t started brewing sake in the U.S. After diving into their sake education through courses and apprenticeships, the idea of opening their own brewery was born.
Surprised and pleased with the high-quality sake that their ameteur homebrewing experiments yielded over time, Brian and Brandon eventually rented space in the Old Pfizer Building in Bushwick, a food innovation hub. After about a year refining their professional process, the duo were ready to design and build out their own space in Industry City. They officially opened their Tap Room in February 2018.
THE BREWING PROCESS
Brooklyn Kura uses four deceptively simple ingredients — American-grown rice, koji, Brooklyn water and yeast — to brew over the course of 30 days. A well- crafted sake can be oral or acidic, sweet or astringent, fruity or savory. The slightest changes in yeast strain, rice variety, water mineral content or brewing method can produce wildly different results – this is what attracts seasoned brewers to the process.
What distinguishes sake production from beer brewing and wine-making is multiple parallel fermentation, meaning that saccharification and fermentation happen simultaneously, not sequentially. For each batch of sake brewed, a member of the Brooklyn Kura team stays at the brewery overnight to monitor the growth of the koji fungus for 48 hours, which is crucial later in brewing to feed the growth of the yeast. Brooklyn Kura takes “handcraft” seriously, and they watch individual grains of rice for two days straight to prove it.
WHERE IT’S MADE
Brooklyn Kura is brewed in a 2,500 square foot space in the heart of Industry City, a rich community of makers and retailers in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. The team enlisted the experts at Biz Designs, Carpenter + Mason and Cooperworks for architecture, interior design and build-out respectively. The space was modeled after the functionality of Japanese breweries, and provides a modern, clean aesthetic and comfortable meeting space. The tap room offers a one-of-a-kind experience, as guests can taste select sakes only available on-site, along with Brooklyn Kura’s flagship products. Peek behind the bar to see the tanks where the moromi (sake mash) is being made as you sip the latest batch in front of you.
In addition to serving a sake that is subtle yet complex, Brooklyn Kura aims to demystify and correct misconceptions about the beverage itself. For example, sake is widely believed to be a distilled spirits, but it’s actually brewed. Additionally, it can also be served at a wide range of temperatures – premium sakes are typically served chilled. And of course, sake is not just for your salmon skin roll. It pairs with a wide range of dishes, and also makes for a great bar order.
MEET THE TEAM
BRIAN POLEN Co-Founder and President
Brian Polen, like most Americans, had his first sip of sake at the corner sushi restaurant. It was meh – warm, astringent and presented more like a spirit than sake. It wasn’t until he moved to NYC and discovered sake haunts like Decibel and Sakagura that Brian began to appreciate the unique beverage.
An avid traveler, it was during a trip to Japan in 2013 that Brian truly fell for high-quality sake and the sake-brewing process. Through Brooklyn Kura, Brian hopes to challenge sake stereotypes and convert craft beer and wine enthusiasts by introducing them to the breadth and complexity of the beverage.
BRANDON DOUGHAN Co-Founder and Head Brewer
Brandon Doughan has had a lifelong interest in fermentation. From wine to beer to soy sauce, Brandon has been brewing since before he was of legal drinking age, but did not experience high-quality sake until arriving in NYC. The 2013 trip to Japan further piqued his interest in sake and the sake-brewing process.
With a background in biochemistry research, Brandon began experimenting with sake recipes and blending his knowledge of Japanese technique with Brooklyn ingredients. The result is Brooklyn Kura, a beverage that is both ancient and modern, Japanese and American.
Brooklyn Kura is located in Brooklyn at 68 34th Street
Tap Room Hours:
Friday — 5pm to 9pm Saturday — 1pm to 9pm
Instagram: @brooklynkura Facebook: /brooklynkura Twitter @brooklynKura