A chance meeting in Tokyo in 2013 launched Brian Polen and Brandon Doughan on a path that lead to opening Brooklyn’s first saké brewery. At the time, Polen was a product executive at American Express and Doughan worked as a biochemist with a specialty in cancer and heart disease research. But after experiencing the vibrant saké culture of Japan, they both knew that saké was something they wanted to pursue more seriously. “When we explored saké breweries in Japan, we were surprised by the range and quality of saké available, and we wondered why there weren’t more Americans brewing,” says Polen, who cites only 15 other producers currently making saké in the U.S. (there are over 10,000 in Japan by comparison).
Polen had been homebrewing beer since college, but to hone their saké-making skills, he and Doughan both apprenticed at saké breweries in Portland, Oregon, and Japan. “Our most formative experience was the year we spent refining our professional process in a space in the old Pfizer Building in Bushwick, New York. After about a year of experimenting, we felt confident that we had nailed the formula and began to design and build out our own space,” says Polen.
Brooklyn Kura opened earlier this year in a 2,500-square-foot brewery and taproom in the Industry City complex in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Designed by Biz Designs, Carpenter + Mason and Cooperworks (for the architecture, interior design and build-out, respectively), the spaces seamlessly combine Japanese and Brooklyn aesthetics. Polen and Doughan wanted to create spaces that would feel “familiar and welcoming to saké lovers and newcomers,” says Polen. “We wanted it to be a modern, casual meeting space with a clean aesthetic, yet still highly functional.”
From the sun-soaked taproom, visitors can get a direct view into the production facility where the saké is made with four ingredients: American-grown rice, koji, Brooklyn water and yeast. The sakés are poured via a draft system to provide an ultra-fresh product, and they’re served in wine glasses, so guests can best enjoy each variety’s unique colors, aromas and flavors, Polen says. “We aim to bring new interest to an ancient beverage with the application of American ingredients and a passion for the process,” says Polen. “With respect for the tradition, we hope to integrate an element of experimentation coming from the perspective of American craft brewers.”
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