Typically, I try to wait a while before visiting a new brewery so the brewing team has time to work out any early kinks, but recently I was so inspired by pre-open samples of beers at Wild Barrel Brewing (692 Rancheros Drive, San Marcos) that I deviated from my SOP. Also, I didn’t want to be the last beer fan in the county to make it to this early success from Stone Brewing expats Bill Sysak and Bill Sobieski (editor’s note: Hernández himself is a Stone expat). The former is known as “Dr.” Bill in beer-connoisseur circles, as he was a medic in the military, and he absolutely knows good beer, but many wondered if he’d be able to brew good beer, too. My answer: probably not…but that’s what the other Bill (the one with fermentation experience at Stone as well as Anaheim’s Hoperazzi) brings to the table.
Although he’s not milling, graining in and dry-hopping, Sysak does have a major impact on brewing decisions at Wild Barrel. In his roles as beverage supervisor and beer ambassador for Stone, he always kept his finger on the pulse of beer fans, so he is familiar with current trends and has used that knowledge to develop a sound portfolio that features numerous India pale ales (IPAs) and fruited kettle sours, a coffee milk stout, and a single style for entry-level visitors, White Rabbit Belgian-style witbier. The latter is brewed with coriander and two forms of citrus, traditional curacao orange peel, and fresh Valencia orange zest. It is light in body, lively on the palate and good enough to serve as the only non-hoppy, non-sour, decaf option.
Of late, many new breweries have had to contend with shortages of popular hops such as Citra, Mosaic, and Nelson Sauvin, but this operation is well stocked, making for a family of IPAs that feel current and almost familiar. The flagship, Indie IPA, has a medium body and savory notes of garlic and onion, while the murky Shape Shifter’s combo of Nelson, Mosaic and Idaho 7 makes for a harmonious mix of tropical fruit flavors. By far the most layered (and downright badass) of the bunch is Prince of Dankness, an 8.4% alcohol-by-volume (ABV) double IPA dry-hopped with 28 pounds of Nelson and six pounds of Motueka. The result is a beer with big pine-cone and toasted popcorn kernel overtones, plus a downright sappy finish.
As lovely and varied as the IPAs were, my favorite beer of the visit may have been Hipster Latte, a 5.5% ABV milk stout made with a blend of coffee made exclusively for Wild Barrel by Rancho Bernardo-based roaster Mostra. It is bold in its roastiness—you’re abundantly aware there is coffee in there—but it is extremely balanced and especially dry for a stout with lactose. It’s particularly impressive that Sobieski put out a beer this perfect his first time producing it and makes me look forward to trying that proprietary blend at the coffee counter that will be constructed next to the tasting room’s main entrance.
Of Wild Barrel’s early beers, I found the San Diego Vice fruited Berliner weisse series — the name illustrates how to pronounce the German word “weisse” — tasted over-fruited for my palate, with the black currant iteration coming across as a tad too sweet. Still, this is a subjective knock, and a beer having too much quality local fruit, some of which is from Sobieski’s back yard, is a first-world problem entirely. Of the three Vices, a Montmorency cherry version was my favorite. The nose is rosé all day, and it tastes of cherry and strawberry preserves.
As the business’ name implies, barrel-aged sours, stouts and strong ales will be part of Wild Barrel’s makeup, but not until its oaken stock has time to mature. Even without wood- and booze-tinged product, there is plenty of high-quality beer to draw imbibers to this North County newcomer.
With a name like Bitter Brothers Brewing Company (4170 Morena Boulevard, Bay Ho), one might think it a bit of a standoffish operation and think twice about attending its “family dinner” events. But taking part in one of these affairs is actually rather sweet. Company co-founder Bill Warnke was a professional chef for many years before getting into the beer-biz. Not only does all that experience mean he has chops in the kitchen. It also means he has a vast number of friends in kitchens all over San Diego County. It’s these very taste buds that help make Bitter Brothers’ Family Dinner series so special. Read more »
From the Beer Writer: As far as names go, I’m not a fan of referring to beers as “lactic”. To those unfamiliar with the popularity of beers made tart by the presence of lactic acid per Old World beers hailing from Belgium and Germany, it just sounds odd. And even if you are a fan of Berliener weisse, gose and the like, the word doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. But flavor and composition far outweigh adjectival shortcomings in the case of Benchmark Lactic Table Beer, an acidic, tangy take on Benchmark Brewing Company’s Belgian-style singel that really hits the spot when it’s on-tap at the Grantville business’ tasting room. I have been a fan of Benchmark’s original 4% alcohol-by-volume Table Beer since first sip. In fact, I was recently asked for a recommendation on a low-alcohol, locally produced beer well suited for enjoyment over the course of several hours, and that was it. The fruity, almost passion fruit-like tartness of the lactic version makes it less of an all-day treat, but is one of the better quick-sour beers in the county, to be sure. It also makes for a nice liquid-intermezzo of sorts to drink between stronger flavored beers, as its crisp sourness resets one’s palate quite nicely.
From the Brewer: “Lactic Table Beer is inspired by the amazing sours of Belgium. We take our standard Table Beer and dose it with a blend of acids that mimics the acid-content of classic Belgian gueuzes. This gives it a tartness that works well with the bready notes found in the base beer. The first time we put this together was for our inaugural Full Table event during San Diego Beer Week in 2014. It has since become a frequent offering at the tasting room. It is available in very small batches here at the brewery, and is made up for a handful of special events each year. Although not a part of our flights this year we will be offering tasters, pours and, for the first time ever, growler fills at this year’s Full Table on Tuesday November 8th. Details about the event can be found by clicking here.”—Matt Akin, Brewmaster, Benchmark Brewing Company
From the Beer Writer: After taking most of the past six months off, Beer to the Rescue returned to action this week (on my son’s 21st birthday, perfectly enough) with the Tuesday release of Pure Project Delphyne. Before even having opened their doors, the founders of Pure Project Brewing expressed a desire to participate in this Lupus Foundation of Southern California fundraising campaign, which saw more than 30 Southern California breweries contribute a portion of proceeds from specialty beers in 2015. In joining the cause, Pure Project head brewer Winslow Sawyer was kind enough to appease my personal tastes. His brewing MO is to select interesting ingredients—usually fruits of a citrus or tropical variety—then select an ideal beer-style for showcasing each. In this case, he took my requested ingredient, dragon fruit, and incorporated it into an effervescent, lightly sour Berliner weisse. The result is a blushingly magenta brew with a body well suited for summer and a generous touch of soul.
From the Brewer: “Delphyne is a bright, refreshingly tart ‘sunshine beer’ featuring lactic and sourdough-like notes on the nose. Based on a traditional German Berliner weisse, it’s brewed with raw, organic dragon fruit we sourced from San Diego-based operation, Pitaya Plus, whose non-GMO farms are located in Nicaragua. This exotic ingredient provides both color and depth of flavor. Berliner weisses—which were the most popular beverage in Germany during the late 19th century—are typically fermented using a mixture of yeast and lactic bacteria, but for this charity beer, I used a vegan yogurt to sour the wort before boiling, then utilized a German ale yeast for fermentation.”—Winslow Sawyer, Head Brewer, Pure Project
Note: Other breweries scheduled to brew beers for Beer to the Rescue include AleSmith Brewing Company, Bay City Brewing Company, Bitter Brothers Brewing Company, Bolt Brewery, Kilowatt Beer Company and White Labs. Stone Brewing is also providing the charity the opportunity to reach people as part of its 20th Anniversary Invitational Beer Festival next month. For more information about upcoming beers and events, follow Beer to the Rescue on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (@BeerToTheRescue).
RB and OB—what a difference one letter can make, both culturally and geographically. Much as I’d like to spend much more time in Ocean Beach more often, living in the inland North County Rancho Bernardo neighborhood makes my visits there far too infrequent. So, when a party for a friend bidding adieu to his OB residence came about, I used that as an excuse to check out a tasting room operated by Solana Beach-based Culture Brewing Company (4845 Newport Avenue, Ocean Beach). In doing so, I realized I wasn’t discovering something brand-new. Culture’s satellite space has been operational since November 2014, but it was new to me and my arrival there was long overdue.
A storefront hollowed out to provide unimpeded sights and sounds from inside the tasting room makes one want to be a part of the action. Inside, the square echo-y space is a tad dull, but livened up to some extent by colorful art lining one of the walls. With a good number of customers filling the place out, it is just fine, but were one to show up during a slow-period, it might seem stark. Most of the folks who were in the night I visited were standing, mostly because the seating options are extremely scarce. This seems like a bit of a miss, as does the configuration of the beer-board, which takes a bit of time to decipher—particularly if you’ve had a few. But the staff is nice and food delivery from nearby Newport Pizza and Ale House as well as next-door neighbor OB Warehouse is a fantastic bonus amenity.
I’ve historically enjoyed Culture beers, so for this visit I went with a spot-check, selecting one of my favorite of their beers, a style in keeping with current trends and San Diegans’ preferred tastes, and a beer that had just been put on the board and was being advertised at the counter. The latter was a Tart Cherry Wit that brought back a distinct flavor-memory from elementary school—cherry-flavored Now and Laters. The nose matched the candy exactly. The flavor was similar, but not as sweet. This was a good thing as it allowed the beer to remain refreshing. I’d imagine it’s quite the crowd-pleaser since this isn’t the first time they’ve offered the beer.
I was pleased that I enjoyed Sour Grape, a 3.8% alcohol-by-volume barrel-aged Berliner weisse of sorts with its fair share of funk. Big cherry and raspberry sweetness came through and lasted in the finish, and the body was just right for conveying all of that plus some nice, very faint grape mustiness.
Last up was Culture’s Mosaic IPA. Based off a very popular hop offering a great deal of tropicality, it’s a beer best judged directly against Karl Strauss Brewing Company’s Mosaic Session Ale. That beer is a hoppy standard-bearer that is arguably the best of Uncle Karl’s current portfolio. Culture’s is higher in ABV by about a point at 6.6%, which gives it a slightly thicker mouthfeel. It’s also much danker and down-and-dirty, but a bit muddled. The Mosaic doesn’t stand out for its individual merits, but the beer has a nice bitterness and will surely elicit smiles among the hop-head sect. All in all, the spot-check was a successful one. Culture’s quality is intact at its offshoot.
OB is also home to Pizza Port’s most southerly brewpub and a tasting room operated by North Park’s Mike Hess Brewing Company. And currently, at least three other brewing companies—Belching Beaver Brewery, Helm’s Brewing Company and an off-the-record nano—are closing on or searching for spots to install tasting rooms. And the long-awaited OB Brewery (a Newport Pizza off-shoot that’s been in the works for more than three years) looks to finally be close to opening (though ownership has neglected to answer press inquiries…for more than three years). Looks like I’m going to have to get down to this cool, quirky, coastal burg more often.