When Setting Sun Sake launched in August, founders Josh Hembree and Keldon Warwick Premuda started with five fermentation vessels — enough to brew 100 gallons of sake per month — and a business model predicting modest growth over the first two years.
8680 Miralani Drive #120, Miramar
"Both Keldon and I imagined we would have very slow growth," recalls Hembree, "because craft sake hasn't reached the cultural zeitgeist craft beer has."
It appears they underestimated San Diego's thirst for craft beverages.
"By the second month we were at year two, quarter three of our business plan," Hembree continues. "It's just been adjusting for growth ever since."
From the beginning, Setting Sun has raced to keep up with the demand of customers seeking out its Miramar industrial park tasting room. As the small enterprise approaches its sixth month in business, it has more than doubled its production capacity. At the end of January, it will double its physical space, too, expanding into an adjacent suite to create more room for its growing selection of equipment.
"We bought a bottler," says Hembree, a longtime beer-maker who officially became a full-time sake producer when he left his brewery job in November. "I'm very fortunate to have friends in the industry, so I bought one gently used and very cheap."
Setting Sun broke in its bottling gear in early December with a 700-bottle run of its first packaged release, Viridescent Waves, a 15% ABV sake dry-hopped with Motueka hops.
"It's our statement to the world that we are a sake brewery that makes hoppy sake," proclaims Hembree. "To the best of my knowledge, we're still the only sake brewery in the world that dry-hops sake."
And the world has taken notice. Hembree reports Setting Sun has already received inquiries from Sake distributors as far away as the United Kingdom, and he was contacted by Tokyo-based sake writer Miho Ota for an interview.
Locally, the sake company has garnered interest from the beer community and has already brewed sake beers in collaboration with several breweries, including Belching Beaver, Booze Brothers, and Orange County's TAPS Fish House & Brewery, which brewed a rice lager with 300 pounds of sake rice, koji enzymes to break it down into fermentable sugars, and Setting Sun's house yeast blend.
Despite internet word-of-mouth spreading the brand globally, Hembree sees distribution to Orange County and Los Angeles as the first realistic step outside San Diego. In the meantime, he and Premuda are focused on continuing to grow in San Diego. Next up will be new bottle-releases every two months, including different dry-hopped varieties, sakes aged in cabernet barrels and gin casks, sakes incorporating watermelon and lavender flavors, and a dry-hopped blood-orange release.
For now, 500ml bottles of Viridescent Waves are available at the Setting Sun tasting room (8680 Miralani Drive #120) and select local bottle shops, including Bine & Vine in Normal Heights.