After 20 years of assisting breweries through consultation and serving as a high-profile beer expert via a number of platforms—most notably his work as craft beer ambassador for Stone Brewing—Bill Sysak knows there’s a big magnifying glass on him as he prepares to open his own beer-manufacturing operation. That interest, Wild Barrel Brewing Company (692 Rancheros Drive, San Marcos), will soft-open, tomorrow, Saturday, September 30, and Sysak says he’s ready to put his money where his mouth is. From the looks of the soon-to-debut business, he’s done just that.
Wild Barrel is installed in a 10,000-square-foot building sharing space and a lobby with a batting-cage facility. That structure is across the street from the San Marcos DMV, one of the busiest offices of its type in the county. Wild Barrel’s tasting room takes up roughly half of the total square footage, accommodating up to 228 patrons. Wood-topped-barrel belly bars make up the majority of the seating, with stools at the main bar and rail bars, but the focal point of the room is a giant faux barrel near the center of the room. Visitors can enter that cylinder, which contains its own belly bars and will eventually house a fountain fashioned from three used barrels, plus rotating art-for-purchase from local artisans. It’s not the only visual media at Wild Barrel. San Marcos resident Maddie Thomas recently painted a colorful mural depicting a glass emblazoned with the company’s logo on the east wall, adding a punch of vibrancy to the mostly oaken interiors.
Another unique tasting-room feature is a pole with directional-arrow signs tacked to it pointing in the direction of other local breweries. Stone, Mason Ale Works, Rip Current Brewing and The Lost Abbey—which is located on the opposite side of the DMV—are represented along with one outlier (and one of Sysak’s favorite breweries), Belgium’s Cantillon. Sysak says this is a small show of appreciation to the operations who’ve been helpful to him throughout his career, in particular since he started work on Wild Barrel roughly a year ago. Stone and Rip Current have sold him hops, Mason has lent him several items and The Lost Abbey’s Tomme Arthur has offered both assistance and advice.
During his decades of consulting, Sysak always stressed the importance of being hyper-focused and selecting the right beer styles; ales and lagers capable of generating enough sales to keep a business afloat without competing with each other. In assessing the current marketplace, Sysak is going heavy with India pale ales (IPAs) and fruited kettle sours, plus barrel-aged wild ales and imperial stouts (the base recipe for the latter was developed in consultation with Todd Ashman of Bourbon County Stout and FiftyFifty Eclipse fame). The opening-day beer-list will include two IPAs—the 7% alcohol-by-volume (ABV) Indie IPA, and an 8.4% imperial model double dry-hopped with Nelson Sauvin and Motueka called Prince of Dankness. A pair of 5.6% Berliner weisses dubbed San Diego Vice (playing off the proper pronunciation for weiss) will also be on tap. One is flavored with Montmorency cherries, the other with pink guava from head brewer (and fellow Stone expat) Bill Sobieski’s backyard tree.
Sysak and Sobieski will also capitalize off the popularity of coffee beers with Hipster Latté, a 5.5% ABV milk stout brewed with coconut palm sugar, lactose and a proprietary blend of beans from Rancho Bernardo-based Mostra Coffee. The blend that will be served at tomorrow’s opening will be the first of four, all of which will incorporate different types of coffee. The plan is to eventually serve them side-by-side (and can all four in a single four-pack) so customers can examine the subtle taste differences. And rounding out the board is a 5.5% Belgian-style witbier called White Rabbit (the character that lures people down its proverbial hole) brewed with traditional ingredients plus a “Valencia orange zest kicker” to give it extra citrus appeal. Rather than having several “gateway beers” such as a Pilsner, hefeweizen, Kolsch and blonde, which might compete and cannibalize off of each other, he wanted to brew one that can thrive on its own.
A recent shipment of ready-to-go Woodford Reserve bourbon whiskey barrels will make up the aging program’s initial stock. All that oak will be stored on the south side of the facility in plain view of the tasting room, with glycol-equipped lines plumbed over the public space to pump beer over from the brewery to help avoid contamination. Eventually, Sysak hopes to take over a space next-door and convert it to a barrel-aging warehouse. Once matured, barrel-aged beers will be packaged in 500-millileter bottles and released at the tasting room and as part of Wild Barrel’s beer club, which went live on the company’s website earlier this week. Sysak will also call on his many friends within the national brewing community to work on collaboration beers, the majority of which will be hazy IPAs and kettle sours. His initial trio of conspirators hail from as close by as Carlsbad and as far away as Florida: Burgeon Beer Company, Bottle Logic Brewing and J. Wakefield Brewing.
The tasting-room bar is equipped with 15 taps, plus a nitro-tap that will dispense coffee. But Sysak hopes to go further with java, installing a barista area in the tasting room that will operate from 7 to 11 a.m. weekday mornings to capture business from DMV visitors and establish an additional revenue stream. Also en route is a crowler-filling machine, which should arrive within a week. The food program will be all about mobile vendors and pre-packaged items. The latter will consist of cheese and charcuterie boards as well as confections from North County’s So Rich Chocolates.
Sysak, Sobieski and fellow co-founder Chris White (not to be confused with the founder of Miramar business White Labs) were able to complete the construction of their shared vision in less than a year and, though there are some small touches left to attend to, it’s already an impressive addition to the local brewing scene. Wild Barrel will be open seven-days-a-week, and its hours will be 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Thursdays and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Since the moment Green Flash Brewing Company acquired Alpine Beer Company back in 2014, there has been concern among protective fans of the latter about that brand’s future. Over the past two-plus years, numerous rumors have popped up, but never in such abundance and covering so many topics as in the weeks following Green Flash’s recent round of layoffs. The company dismissed approximately 25 employees over the span of a few days. Since then, numerous sources have signaled the beginning of the end in talks with industry colleagues. Enough so, that we recently went to Green Flash owner Mike Hinkley and other company representatives for direct responses to each of them.
Rumor: It’s been reported that Hinkley has stepped down from the CEO position.
Response (from Green Flash): Hinkley is still the CEO and his title has not changed. Chris Ross was recently promoted from chief operating officer to president, and is reporting to Hinkley. This promotion recognizes the great knowledge and vast experience that Ross brings to the Green Flash organization. Over the past year-and-a-half, Ross has built a solid operations department. In his expanded role as president, every department at Green Flash will benefit from his insight and business acumen.
Rumor: Hinkley has moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Response (from Green Flash): Hinkley is dividing his time between both coasts to be close to the Virginia Beach brewery, the San Diego brewery and Florida. He plans to spend less time in the brewery and more time on the road with his beloved sales team, the Road Warriors.
Rumor: Alpine’s founding family—Pat, Val and Shawn McIlhenney—will soon have no affiliation with the company.
Response (from Hinkley): The Hinkleys and the McIlhenney’s continue to own Alpine Beer and Green Flash. McIlhenneys forever is the retention plan. If Shawn has children someday, we will send them all to brew-school and hope for the best. Pat is an awesome brewer. Shawn is an awesome brewer. Hoping it’s in the genes. None of us will live forever, but Alpine Beer will.
Rumor: Brewing operations will cease permanently at Alpine Beer’s brewery in Alpine.
Response (from Hinkley): We plan to brew Alpine Beer in Alpine forever. We are currently working with the landlord on site-development and hope to build a new brewery in Alpine as soon as possible.
Rumor: Green Flash is working on constructing a facility in Texas.
Response (from Hinkley): Green Flash will eventually build a brewery in the middle of the country. The motivation? We are in the business of making and selling beer. It makes great business-sense to bring fresh beer to market and connect with customers close to the point-of-sale. We love Texas, but there are no specific plans to build there, or anywhere else, yet. We are just getting comfortable in our Virginia digs.