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Setting Sun's beer-inspired sake

"I consider it beer, because it's a fermented cereal beverage."

Ginjo grade polished rice is used to make this cloudy version of Setting Sun sake.
Ginjo grade polished rice is used to make this cloudy version of Setting Sun sake.

What happens when craft brewers apply their experience to sake? That's what Josh Hembree and Keldon Warwick Premuda are trying to find out with the launch of Setting Sun Sake Brewing Co. The Miramar sake company opened in August with a small variety of sake options, including craft beer–inspired concoctions like fruited and dry-hopped takes.

Hembree and Premuda met working together at Stone Brewing. Premuda still works there, while Hembree has been employed by a succession of breweries the past decade, including a current gig with Belching Beaver, and previous engagements with Fuller's Brewery in London and Munich's Paulaner. He says the difference in quality drinking these European beers fresh versus in bottles beaten up by the long import process inspired him.

"Craft beer has shown that fresh beer just tastes better," Hembree says, "With that kind of mindset, I thought, sake must be the same."

Starting a sake business isn't quite the same as starting in beer. Setting Sun had to acquire a winemaker's license from the state of California, but a beer brewer's certificate from the federal government. While the two-month sake-making process combines elements of both, "I consider it beer," Hembree says, "Because it's a fermented cereal beverage."

That cereal, of course, is rice. Japanese producers use varieties grown specifically for sake. But part of Setting Sun's ethos is sourcing locally, so it uses Calrose rice. "It was actually bred to grow here in California," Hembree explains, "It definitely has different qualities than those classic sake rice strains. But because I believe that Calrose personifies California…my rice comes from the Sacramento Valley."

However, sake rice requires more milling than what we find at the grocery store, which has 20-30% of its hull and bran polished away (a higher polish results in white versus brown rice). "I have 40 percent of it polished away," Hembree notes, "to make sure I have the cleanest, purest sugar source possible." This produces the sake standard known as ginjo grade.

Place

Setting Sun Sake Brewing Co.

8680 Miralani Drive #120, San Diego

Setting Sun specializes in what's known as nama sake, which literally means raw or fresh, and specifically refers to the fact it's unpasteurized. As Hembree tells it, the development of pasteurized sake in Japan loosely mirrors the pre-craft homogenization of the beer industry in the U.S. Originally, he recounts, "every prefecture would have a different water source, it would have a different rice. It was very local — it was very craft. As industry took over, they started producing larger amounts, and to make sure it would travel, they would pasteurize it, and you'd lose a lot of flavor."

Hembree and Premuda are self-taught, learning from books, internet research, and questioning any sake expert willing to speak with them — not many considering there are about as many sake producers in the U.S. as there are breweries in Miramar.

At a recent sake festival held in San Francisco, Setting Sun's dry-hopped fresh sake stirred up plenty of conversation, even as some of the Japanese sake makers disparaged the nontraditional effort. "It's just not something that's done," Hembree recounts, but these craft brewers weren't dissuaded. "Just because it's not done, doesn't mean it shouldn't be done."

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Ginjo grade polished rice is used to make this cloudy version of Setting Sun sake.
Ginjo grade polished rice is used to make this cloudy version of Setting Sun sake.

What happens when craft brewers apply their experience to sake? That's what Josh Hembree and Keldon Warwick Premuda are trying to find out with the launch of Setting Sun Sake Brewing Co. The Miramar sake company opened in August with a small variety of sake options, including craft beer–inspired concoctions like fruited and dry-hopped takes.

Hembree and Premuda met working together at Stone Brewing. Premuda still works there, while Hembree has been employed by a succession of breweries the past decade, including a current gig with Belching Beaver, and previous engagements with Fuller's Brewery in London and Munich's Paulaner. He says the difference in quality drinking these European beers fresh versus in bottles beaten up by the long import process inspired him.

"Craft beer has shown that fresh beer just tastes better," Hembree says, "With that kind of mindset, I thought, sake must be the same."

Starting a sake business isn't quite the same as starting in beer. Setting Sun had to acquire a winemaker's license from the state of California, but a beer brewer's certificate from the federal government. While the two-month sake-making process combines elements of both, "I consider it beer," Hembree says, "Because it's a fermented cereal beverage."

That cereal, of course, is rice. Japanese producers use varieties grown specifically for sake. But part of Setting Sun's ethos is sourcing locally, so it uses Calrose rice. "It was actually bred to grow here in California," Hembree explains, "It definitely has different qualities than those classic sake rice strains. But because I believe that Calrose personifies California…my rice comes from the Sacramento Valley."

However, sake rice requires more milling than what we find at the grocery store, which has 20-30% of its hull and bran polished away (a higher polish results in white versus brown rice). "I have 40 percent of it polished away," Hembree notes, "to make sure I have the cleanest, purest sugar source possible." This produces the sake standard known as ginjo grade.

Place

Setting Sun Sake Brewing Co.

8680 Miralani Drive #120, San Diego

Setting Sun specializes in what's known as nama sake, which literally means raw or fresh, and specifically refers to the fact it's unpasteurized. As Hembree tells it, the development of pasteurized sake in Japan loosely mirrors the pre-craft homogenization of the beer industry in the U.S. Originally, he recounts, "every prefecture would have a different water source, it would have a different rice. It was very local — it was very craft. As industry took over, they started producing larger amounts, and to make sure it would travel, they would pasteurize it, and you'd lose a lot of flavor."

Hembree and Premuda are self-taught, learning from books, internet research, and questioning any sake expert willing to speak with them — not many considering there are about as many sake producers in the U.S. as there are breweries in Miramar.

At a recent sake festival held in San Francisco, Setting Sun's dry-hopped fresh sake stirred up plenty of conversation, even as some of the Japanese sake makers disparaged the nontraditional effort. "It's just not something that's done," Hembree recounts, but these craft brewers weren't dissuaded. "Just because it's not done, doesn't mean it shouldn't be done."

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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