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Setting Sun Sake cans an alternative to beer

Sparkling session sake turns "rice wine" into single serving, everyday drink

Two new session sake releases marks the beginning of canned sake for Setting Sun Sake.
Two new session sake releases marks the beginning of canned sake for Setting Sun Sake.

This week, I cracked open a cold one. Pulled the tab of a 12-ounce can and heard that satisfying cshhht sound that usually presages enjoyment of an ale or lager. Except it wasn’t beer inside, rather a single serving of sake. San Diego’s own Setting Sun Sake Brewing Co. has introduced its first sakes in cans.

Place

Setting Sun Sake Brewing Co.

8680 Miralani Drive #120, San Diego

Setting Sun emerged back in 2016, as a Miramar nanobrewery intent on plying a craft beer ethos to the Japanese brewing traditions. Although people often refer to sake as rice wine, co-founder Josh Hembree, was always quick to point out that it’s actually a cereal beverage, brewed from grain, and therefore more analogous to beer.

Packaged in 12-ounce cans of aluminum, the resemblance becomes more apparent. Whereas traditional sakes do typically match the potency of wine — somewhere in the vicinity of 14 percent alcohol by volume — Setting Sun’s canned sakes rate closer to a double IPA, measuring 8-percent. And while traditional sakes tend to be poured almost ceremonially, from 60-ounce bottles, to be shared over a sushi dinner, for example, these are labeled as session sakes, meant to be enjoyed under the same circumstances as a refreshing beer.

While sake doesn’t retain a head of foam like beer, there is a little fizz here. As Hembree puts it, “They’re lightly carbonated… just enough to give the can a little squeeze, so it doesn’t feel soft.” Bubbles also open up the flavors contained within.

And flavor is where these canned sakes distinguish themselves. Though Setting Sun initially garnered national press for such tactics as flavoring its sake with hops, these sakes go in a different direction. Here, the mild sweetness of sake is complemented with sweet adjuncts, and balanced with teas. So the Arizona iced tea-inspired Arizona Bae, tastes like a petulant peach and matcha green tea. While Lil’ Cloudy imbues unfiltered nigori sake with vanilla and chai spice. “Flip to enjoy cloudy,” reads the label, an instruction toward getting a clouded, creamy appearance.

Each can’s label also highlights another relevant way sake differs from beer: it’s gluten free. Which has prompted retailers Hembree has worked with to place it away from beer, in the same category as popular beer alternatives including hard seltzers and hard kombucha.

“Immediately, I’m upset that I’m in this other category,” says the beer industry veteran, “But they’re like, No, it’s our biggest growing category!”

Canned session sake has much more body than hard seltzer, and far less acidity than kombucha, so the rapid growth of gluten free beer alternatives could mean further expansion is imminent for Setting Sun. The sake brewer has already expanded its production more than eight-fold in four years, secured distribution as far away as Montana, and ships direct to consumer orders to 39 states.

Its next canned product could endear it to yet another growing category: ready to drink cocktails. At Setting Sun’s Miralani Drive tasting room, the sake cocktail program spearheaded by tasting room manager Kim Roxas has yielded a fan-favorite, dubbed Citra & Citrus. It mixes zests of lemon, lime, and orange with thyme and Citra hops. Which means hopped sake in a can could be coming soon.

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Two new session sake releases marks the beginning of canned sake for Setting Sun Sake.
Two new session sake releases marks the beginning of canned sake for Setting Sun Sake.

This week, I cracked open a cold one. Pulled the tab of a 12-ounce can and heard that satisfying cshhht sound that usually presages enjoyment of an ale or lager. Except it wasn’t beer inside, rather a single serving of sake. San Diego’s own Setting Sun Sake Brewing Co. has introduced its first sakes in cans.

Place

Setting Sun Sake Brewing Co.

8680 Miralani Drive #120, San Diego

Setting Sun emerged back in 2016, as a Miramar nanobrewery intent on plying a craft beer ethos to the Japanese brewing traditions. Although people often refer to sake as rice wine, co-founder Josh Hembree, was always quick to point out that it’s actually a cereal beverage, brewed from grain, and therefore more analogous to beer.

Packaged in 12-ounce cans of aluminum, the resemblance becomes more apparent. Whereas traditional sakes do typically match the potency of wine — somewhere in the vicinity of 14 percent alcohol by volume — Setting Sun’s canned sakes rate closer to a double IPA, measuring 8-percent. And while traditional sakes tend to be poured almost ceremonially, from 60-ounce bottles, to be shared over a sushi dinner, for example, these are labeled as session sakes, meant to be enjoyed under the same circumstances as a refreshing beer.

While sake doesn’t retain a head of foam like beer, there is a little fizz here. As Hembree puts it, “They’re lightly carbonated… just enough to give the can a little squeeze, so it doesn’t feel soft.” Bubbles also open up the flavors contained within.

And flavor is where these canned sakes distinguish themselves. Though Setting Sun initially garnered national press for such tactics as flavoring its sake with hops, these sakes go in a different direction. Here, the mild sweetness of sake is complemented with sweet adjuncts, and balanced with teas. So the Arizona iced tea-inspired Arizona Bae, tastes like a petulant peach and matcha green tea. While Lil’ Cloudy imbues unfiltered nigori sake with vanilla and chai spice. “Flip to enjoy cloudy,” reads the label, an instruction toward getting a clouded, creamy appearance.

Each can’s label also highlights another relevant way sake differs from beer: it’s gluten free. Which has prompted retailers Hembree has worked with to place it away from beer, in the same category as popular beer alternatives including hard seltzers and hard kombucha.

“Immediately, I’m upset that I’m in this other category,” says the beer industry veteran, “But they’re like, No, it’s our biggest growing category!”

Canned session sake has much more body than hard seltzer, and far less acidity than kombucha, so the rapid growth of gluten free beer alternatives could mean further expansion is imminent for Setting Sun. The sake brewer has already expanded its production more than eight-fold in four years, secured distribution as far away as Montana, and ships direct to consumer orders to 39 states.

Its next canned product could endear it to yet another growing category: ready to drink cocktails. At Setting Sun’s Miralani Drive tasting room, the sake cocktail program spearheaded by tasting room manager Kim Roxas has yielded a fan-favorite, dubbed Citra & Citrus. It mixes zests of lemon, lime, and orange with thyme and Citra hops. Which means hopped sake in a can could be coming soon.

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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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