New York’s First Sake Brewery is Coming to Brooklyn

By Sari Kami

From pickles to chocolate, Brooklyn has staked its claim as the epicenter of the craft foods renaissance. Small-batch spirits, wine, and beer are produced throughout the borough, which is why it’s surprising that sake had yet to find a stronghold in Brooklyn — until now. Brooklyn Kura is New York’s first sake brewery, set to open this fall in the Industry City complex in Sunset Park.

Sake is a traditional Japanese brewed beverage made from fermented rice, water, yeast, and koji. Koji is a mold that grows directly on the rice grain, creating enzymes that convert rice starch into sugar. The dual fermentation process of koji and added yeast is unique to sake production. And the water used in the brewing process greatly affects the quality because as a finished product, sake is about 80% water. Whereas with wine, climate, soil, and geographical characteristics can impact the taste, water is essentially sake’s terroir.

Brooklyn Kura founders Brandon Doughan and Brian Polen met at a mutual friend’s wedding in Japan. While overseas, they discovered a shared passion for high-quality sake and a conversation about domestic brewing began. Back in his then hometown of Portland, Doughan, a biochemist and a beer brewer with a burly red beard, began tinkering with home-sake brewing. As his interest grew, he started an internship at Sake One, a craft brewery nestled amongst the wineries of Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

In the US, the majority of domestic sake is made in California. Many of these West Coast breweries are essentially mega-facilities producing the lower quality sake known as futushu, commonly served heated or catapulted into beer pints as “sake bombs” in sub-par sushi restaurants. Unfortunately, it’s this lackluster version that has limited many Americans’ perceptions of what sake can be.

Polen says that as he and Doughan got serious about going into business, they questioned why there weren’t more American sake producers. “There’s a whole beautiful culture around sake in Japan that is the definition of craft. We were surprised this category of drink hadn’t blown up in the States.”

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