Everyone in the San Diego craft beer world knows Josh Hembree. From homebrewing and his beginnings at Black Market to his work at Stone, Paulaner, Belching Beaver, and breweries around San Diego, Hembree has become a fixture on the craft scene. Large in height and personality, and "always with an opinion" (according to him), it's rare to meet him without a grin to match his stature.
Hembree's newest adventure, along with business partner Keldon Warwick Premuda, is Setting Sun Sake, nestled in a business park on Miralani Drive in Miramar. DiscoverSD recently sat down with Hembree to get the latest scoop on his passion for sake and how he came to open one of only two sake breweries in the San Diego County.
DiscoverSD: Let's break this down for newbies, how is sake like beer?
Hembree: Both are just four ingredients. Beer is grain, water, hops, and yeast. Sake is rice, koji, water and yeast.
How did your passion and dream take hold in Setting Sun Sake?
The creation was at Black Market in Temecula 2009. I was a homebrewer, and was looking at vessels and wondering could I make beer without the mash process? With Koji mold in sake, don't use a mash. I was working at Stone SourFest, and a customer asked, "Josh, what's next?" I said, "it's sake, it's next." Flash to 2013, I was still pursuing my love of craft beer but not finding my place. I've always loved sake, so I started brewing it. My business partner, Keldon, believed in me, we signed a license and opened our doors August 13, 2016.
What are the flavors and what is the alcohol similar to? Beer? Wine?
All sakes comes in around 15 percent. Ours is 15.8 percent but we will go as high as 19 percent. Our current offerings are "Clear," "Cloudy," "Hoppy" with Simcoe and Amarillo hops, and a "Seasonal." Right now it's watermelon, next up is lilikoi.
The names are simple, not in traditional Japanese style. Why?
One of my beliefs is that sake could be as big as wine or beer if you understand what you are getting. The disconnect is understanding what you are drinking. The impetus of craft is to educate. By using all American terms, I am able to educate.
Most popular flavor?
Cloudy or Hoppy. People can relate to the Hoppy. I say, "San Diego, come on home."
Will we see a bottle release of your sake?
Yes! There will be one in the next three months, the "Hoppy" sake.
Ok, so tips for people starting out: What's your favorite style of sake?
Namazake, the unpasteurized natural sake. For me, this is where the craft of sake lies.
Suggestion on a Japanese sake to try?
Funaguchi Kikusui Ichiban Shibori, a honjozo sake.
What's next for Setting Sun?
I am working toward a barrel aged sake in Cab Franc barrels. Also, I make a house blend of yeast, and I want to reproduce my favorite craft beers in sake form. One based on Allagash Curieux, a smoky Rauchsake, and an Imperial using mead, and Mostra coffee. I think all of these beers can be re-imagined through sake.
Setting Sun Sake
Address: 8680 Miralani Drive, #120, Miramar
Hours: 5-9 p.m. Thursday-Friday, and 1-9 p.m. Saturday-Sunday