Setting Sun is setting sake trends

Plus a new tasting room and a Japanese Garden party

A flight of both clear and cloudy sake
  • A flight of both clear and cloudy sake

It’s a rare occasion we get to look at trends emerging in cities like New York and London, and say, That started in San Diego. So credit Josh Hembree and Keldon Premuda of Miramar’s Setting Sun Sake for a tasty innovation that’s gone international: dry-hopped sake.

Setting Sun Sake Brewing Co.

8680 Miralani Drive #120, Miramar

Along with a spate of traditional and fruited sakes, beer vets Hembree and Premuda introduced the common craft brewer technique to sake upon opening in summer 2016, and a small but growing collection of craft sake brewers cropping up around the globe have since followed suit. Billed as the U.K.’s first sake brewery when it opened in 2017, Kanpai London Craft Sake has picked up on the concept, as has this year's Brooklyn Kura, which recently hat-tipped Setting Sun to the New York Times.

Sake and tonic, and a Ronin mural by artist Mike Maxwell in the new Setting Sun Sake tasting room.

Sake and tonic, and a Ronin mural by artist Mike Maxwell in the new Setting Sun Sake tasting room.

That hasn’t been the end of Setting Sun’s innovation, either. Having experimented with barrel aging and mixed-fermentation sour sake, for example, the sake brewer recently released Post Melone, a blend of three annual batches of sour watermelon sake, inspired by the Belgian gueuze style, itself a blend of young and old lambic sour beers.

The continued creative growth has been mirrored by a physical one: last month, Setting Sun took over the suite next door to its Miralani Makers’s District brewery, moving its tasting room into the larger space, and opening up room to expand brewing capacity.

The new tasting room offers added breathing room in a more finished space, with several large tables, and a significantly longer bar, sake flights and cocktails (think sake mule), all overseen by a large, distinctive mural by local artist Mike Maxwell, depicting one of Japan’s masterless samurai warriors, the Ronin.

Setting Sun’s flagship traditional ginjo grade sakes take the name Ronin, including a clear version (culled from the top of each batch) and cloudy (taken from the settled bottom portion of the brew, made cloudy by malts floating in suspension, much like a traditional German hefeweizen).

Like a hefeweizen, this Ronin sake offers flavors of banana and clove, and a hint of honeysuckle, with the sweetness of the California-grown rice finding balance in a mild acidity. The cloudy version dampens both the aroma-producing esters and acidity, delivering a smoother body and sweeter finish.

Also featured in my recent flight was a unique collaboration with Scripps Ranch cider maker Newtopia Cyder. Dubbed Passage to Arcadia, the cider and sake co-fermentation uses a third boozy beverage as inspiration: gin. Infusing botanicals such as juniper berry, rosehip, and the roots marshmallow, hawthorne, and angelica, it’s a natural pick for a sake and tonic.

Next up for Setting Sun is its first local festival. The unprecedented [Fall Garden Party] takes place December 1 inside the Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park, scheduled to feature Japanese music, local chefs preparing Japanese-inspired street food, and of course, craft beverages. As the county’s only active sake producer, Setting Sun has enlisted a few of its Miramar area neighbors and friends to round out the booze available, including Newtopia Cyder, Charlie & Echo winery, Lost Cause Meadery, and Thunderhawk Alements.

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