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.
From the Beer Writer: The importance has remained at the forefront of discussions among those within and enamored with the local craft-brewing industry. Trade organizations such as the Brewers Association and the San Diego Brewers Guild have both gone to lengths to ensure that, but at the end of the day, it’s the actions of the small, independent breweries struggling to compete against their deep-pocketed Big Beer adversaries that will carry the day. Nobody can fight the fight for them, and thankfully, many have stepped up. Count North Park’s Pariah Brewing Company among them. Earlier this year, the newcomer to the county’s brewery landscape released an India pale ale (IPA) dubbed Pariah Indie Or Bust IPA. It seems a simple tactic, incorporating the term “indie” into a beer’s name, but it is effective. It has become a popular offering for the company, which is mostly known for making outlandish ales infused with exotic ingredients. However, this is a straightforward IPA that gets its depth from a modern-day hop bill blending Citra, Galaxy and Idaho 7 varietals. The result is a beer with peach, melon and toasted pine cone on the nose, followed by grilled pineapple, guava and an orange-like juiciness leading into an extra-dry finish. It’s an ideal ale for the current marketplace; one which helps keep an item of importance top of mind while delivering a delicious, high-quality product from a truly independent brewery.
From the Brewers: “Indie Or Bust IPA came about while hanging out with the breweries that brewed the 11 Barrel IPA. (South Park Brewing owner) Scot Blair was at Resident Brewing and, while talking with him about the idea behind the beer, he asked if we’d be interested in brewing our own version. The stipulations were that it had to be 7% alcohol-by-volume and include the relative newcomer hop, Idaho 7. I’d contracted a small amount of Idaho 7 but hadn’t had an excuse to use it yet, so I jumped at the chance and brewed it literally the following day. Since the 11 Barrel IPAs had already been released, we wanted a different name and, with political slogans being used at the time fresh in our minds—as well our personal convictions—Indie Or Bust IPA seemed appropriate. The beer also features Citra and Galaxy hops. The malt bill is pretty much 100% Pilsner with a sprinkle of very lightly colored malt. Our house Wicked ale yeast undertook the fermentation. We are exceptionally proud to be a part of the indie-beer scene and we are glad drinkers today feel the same way. When it comes time for a beer, it’s either going to be an independent beer or we’re ordering a whiskey!”—Brian Mitchell, Head Brewer, Pariah Brewing Company
There are plenty of reasons you may have already heard about Beach Grease Beer Co. Aside from having a website and social-media presence, the company has sales feet on the street and, as a result, has had beer on tap at roughly 50 San Diego County accounts over the past three weeks. That initial offering is Surf Reaper Golden IPA. But this interest has been mostly a mystery to those in the local brewing scene and easily the business I’ve been asked about the most over the past several months. Finally, there are answers and details about this upcoming entrant into North County’s fermentation field. Read more »
From the Beer Writer: With so many different beers on store shelves, it can be challenging for consumers to know which best fits their personal tastes. This is particularly true of India pale ales. Thanks to the ever-growing abundance of hops both Old and New World, IPAs have a broader spectrum of flavors than ever before. Many brewing companies seek to explain the palate characteristics of their beers by including descriptors on their bottles and cans. Pine, citrus and tropical are some of the most common, but some go far beyond the adjective box. This is true of Vista’s Mother Earth Brew Co., which recently released an IPA as part of its Resonator Series with the following flavor breakdown: gooseberry pie, passion fruit meringue, tea leaf. I’ve experienced earthy, tea-like nuances in beers before, particularly those made with English hop varietals, but those dessert-y assessments I have as of yet only found in certain sour ales and saisons. After thoroughly analyzing Mother Earth Say When IPA, I can’t say I picked up the tartness of gooseberries or passion fruit, but given its bounty of more common citrus flavors—Naval orange, grapefruit, lemon rind—and enjoyably balancing herbal accents (tea leaf, indeed), it in no way took away from this well-crafted beer.
From the Brewer: “Say When is a culmination of improved hop availability and experimentation over the last few years. We wanted an IPA that showcased lower IBUs (international bittering units) with tropical and juicy notes drinkers are craving these days, especially with the advent of ‘hazy’ IPAs. When we think ‘juicy’, Galaxy and Citra immediately come to mind, and after a very successful release of our 100% Idaho 7 wet-hop beer last year, which had huge papaya and guava flavor and aroma, we knew how to knock Say When out of the park. A higher-ABV (7.5% alcohol by volume), light malt backbone and heavy-handed hop additions throughout the brew process produce an easy-drinking, juicy IPA that is not only clear (not hazy) but demands you know how to ‘say when.'”—Chris Baker, Head Brewer, Mother Earth Brew Co.
If you miss the good old days, when classic C hops ruled the day, pale ales registered mid-range on the SRM meter and beer menus went from blonde to stout, Brett Stampf can relate. A veteran brewer who worked at Stone Brewing and Green Flash Brewing, he can appreciate the IBU-rich beers that played a big part in those operations’ successes. He says he left each as said success led to each growing into larger entities, stating that just wasn’t for him. He prefers a smaller stage and the freedom that provides, and has spent the past two years constructing his own passion project with partners John Bull and Josh Gilko. That spot, Alta Brewing Company (1983 Julian Avenue, Barrio Logan) is on track to open in early August (ABC willing).
When San Diegans last tasted Stampf’s beers, he was the opening brewmaster at La Jolla Brewing. While there is little he cared to bring with him from that venture, his current beer list includes a number of offerings from his time there. When the doors open, he will have a quintet of ales available. The first is a golden ale with a surprisingly biting finish that will be served on CO2 and nitrogen. Ditto the house IPA, which is hopped with big-money hops, Citra and Simcoe, and comes in at 7% alcohol-by-volume. A 6% ABV pale ale is a throwback that comes across like a tamer version of Sierra Nevada’s copper-colored flagship, with a bitter finish that resembles that of Stampf’s Chinook- and Centennial-stoked brown ale. A dry Irish-style stout rounds things out. Belgian-style ales and an IPA hopped exclusively with Azacca are in the works.
Those beers will be available solely in Alta’s tasting room, which was pounded into shape by the company’s founders—all of which have contracting backgrounds—in a 2,000-square-foot space at the base of the Bread and Salt building. That 40,000-square-foot facility is being reborn and reconfigured with an eye toward art and artisan manufacturing. Alta’s corner of it includes an indoor bar nicely appointed with a large bull-head mural by local artist Gloria Muriel featuring beer’s four main ingredients, plus a lacquered wood-topped bar with rebar forged into a playful design based on the letters A, L and T. Rail bars line two walls, giving way to views of Barrio Logan and an outdoor patio that will someday border a beer garden.
Alta’s brewery comprises a five-barrel brewhouse feeding into 10-barrel fermentation tanks. Stampf says he will aim to produce around 500 barrels in year one, but has the ability to max out annual production at 1,100 barrels. Stampf says the name Alta translates to over and above, and describes the way he is looking to brew; remaining true to tradition, but keeping up quality while infusing a bit of himself and his personal preferences. The skeletal bull-head logo is a nod to his business partner of the same name and is affectionately named “Juan Toro”. A “recovering contractor”, Bull has worked on numerous local restaurant projects, including Tribute Pizza, Union Kitchen and Tap, One Door North, PB Shore Club and Pacific Beach AleHouse. Once Alta is up and running, the team will identify sites for one or two satellite tasting rooms. So far they have evaluated two, Chula Vista and Ocean Beach.