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Check Out Josh Hembree’s Story

Today we’d like to introduce you to Josh Hembree.

Hi Josh, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us – to start maybe you can share some of your backstory with our readers?
After a career in beer spanning Stone World Bistro and Gardens, Belching Beaver, Paulaner-Hacker Pschorr USA, and many other local breweries in San Diego, I wanted to open my own brewery and showcase something that I thought deserved a closer look. Setting Sun Sake was founded in 2014 and opened to the public in 2016. We have been pushing the limits of American craft sake, being pioneers in blending techniques adapted from beer brewing, cider, wine, and mead making, and barrel-aging techniques, and lambic-sake hybrid brewing. We were the first to add hops to sake and release it across 12oz/750ml/20L keg formats.

Over the years, we’ve proudly collaborated with the beverage community such as Lost Cause Meadery, Mikkeller SD, Newtopia Cyder, and have most recently released collaborations with Saint Archer Brewing, Charlie and Echo winery, and Align Brewing. Today we offer our Core 4 sake’s: Ronin Clear, Ronin Cloudy, PHG (pomegranate, hibiscus, green tea), and Hoppy Sake. Our Ronin-based sakes are all junmai nama ginjo – junmai meaning “pure rice’, nama meaning “unpasteurized”, and ginjo grade refers to our rice is being polished to at least 40%. The process for a ginjo sake is done at lower temperatures, which may take longer, but produces a sake that is light and fragrant on aroma but bold and complex in flavor.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
The road has never stopped being difficult, but the legitimizing and growth in the sake industry has been the satisfaction that keeps us going forward. From the start, we were one of seven sake breweries in North America and now there are around 25 operating. At Setting Sun Sake, we have quadrupled our sake brewing capacity since opening in 2016, opened a much larger Tasting Room adjacent to the original location allowing us to double both brewing and tasting room square footage. While the pandemic reduced our Tasting Room numbers, we launched our new website and began online sales, shipping to 39 states.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
For us at Setting Sun Sake, our tasting room is our art gallery. As artists and brewers, we enjoy taking a deep dive into the history and foundation of our sake. We thrive and encourage intellectual stimulation by sharing our knowledge and love forsake by offering people different ways to appreciate and enjoy sake. Aside from having the only sake-based cocktail menu in San Diego, created by our International Kikisakeshi (Sake Sommelier) Kim Roxas, we offer our educational program series: Sake 101, 102, and 103 programs that include guided flight tastings, food & sake pairings with local chefs, and sake home brewing classes. We also continue to encourage supporting locals, as far as working with local artists, vendors and sourcing locally whenever possible.

What’s next?
I would love to become the Sierra Nevada of American craft’s sake, being known for a legacy of innovations and quality. We look forward to also growing our San Diego Sake Day. This will be our 4th year hosting at the Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park and our first year partnering with Ayaka Ito of Beshock Ramen, combining both of our festivals into one to become the largest sake event in Southern California. Follow us on our social media (Instagram and FB) @settingsunsake to stay up-to-date.

Contact Info:

Image Credits:

Brian Parker, Jake Deardorff, Fede Savinon

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