The global sake market is estimated to be around $500M- $1B, and you may be surprised to find out that in NYC there are no sake breweries…until now. Brooklyn Kura is the first sake brewery in New York! It manufactures high-quality, American Craft Sake which means combining Japanese sake brewing traditions with unique American ingredients. It’s already in 35 different retailers, and production is only expected to increase.
AlleyWatch spoke with cofounder and President Brian Polen on the process of launching this successful brewery.
Tell us about Brooklyn Kura’s product.
The first sake brewery in New York, Brooklyn Kura is dedicated to crafting and serving high-quality sake and building a new community of sake lovers in New York City.
How is Brooklyn Kura different?
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, we are inspiring new interest in the ancient beverage with the application of unique American ingredients and a passion for the process.
What market does Brooklyn Kura target and how big is it?
Our research puts the market at between $500M and $1B, with the lion’s share of the US market controlled by 4 domestic producers in California. That said, American sake consumption is growing every year. U.S. sake sales have grown by about 8% annually for more than 20 years. Sake exports from Japan have doubled in the past decade to more than 5M gallons last year, with the U.S. accounting for around a quarter of the total exports.
Not only do we see a place for Brooklyn Kura in the current market, which, like other industries, is evolving as consumers demand local and higher quality products, but we also see the potential for the industry to attract an adventurous set of craft beer and fine wine drinkers looking for a new category of drink to add to their rotation. Sake consumption globally is ~$10B vs Wine at ~$300B and beer at ~$600B and given the ubiquity of Japanese products in the US market, we see real potential for sake to gain share.
We are a wholesale business. Our goal is to distribute sake to on and off-premise retailers with a near-term focus on NYC. Additionally, we have a retail venue that operates as a taproom and event space.
What inspired the business?
After meeting in 2013 at a mutual friend’s wedding in Japan, we discovered we 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 10K different hyper-local sake across Japan—we wondered why more people hadn’t started brewing sake in the U.S. After diving into our own sake education through courses and apprenticeships, the idea of opening our own brewery was born.
Back stateside, we were also surprised and pleased with the high-quality sake that our amateur homebrewing experiments yielded over time. After discovering a small number of American brewers based on the West Coast, we saw an opportunity to introduce New Yorkers to sake.
How is your business tech-enabled?
We have had to be creative with technology while balancing costs, an evolving production process, and increasing volumes. Much of the equipment we use today was designed/built for our process including our steamer, our tanks (which are able to maintain precise temperatures over the life of a 30-day fermentation cycle), and our koji room/table. That said, our process remains very manual and labor/time intensive, which will need to change as we scale.
What are the milestones that you plan to achieve within six months?
In the next 6 months, Brooklyn Kura would like to ramp up production to 3,600 bottles a month.
What is the one piece of startup advice that you never got?
We have received a lot of fantastic startup advice. Our challenge has been filtering that advice into a set of principles or actions that will help us grow our business faster and not distract or misdirect us.
If you could be put in touch with anyone in the New York community who would it be and why?
We have been incredibly fortunate. Retailers, sake fans, sake industry professionals, the brewing community, etc have all been accessible and supportive. What we need is continued support from the New York community as we work to improve our product and make it increasingly available.
Why did you launch in New York?
New York City is a sophisticated and diverse market with access to fantastic water, restaurants, wine shops and some of the most discerning consumers in the world. From a sake market perspective, it is the premier US market with over 500 imported brands available across the city and thousands of retailers serving sake to their customers. In short, we couldn’t imagine starting our brewery anywhere else!
What’s your favorite restaurant in the city?
There are too many…Our sake is being served at over 35 different retailers and counting!