From the Beer Writer: Beers that find their way into barrels for extended aging are typically of the higher-alcohol variety. That additional fortitude helps the base beverage endure the test that is time spent picking up the oaken and vinous or spiritual character of those oaken receptacles. But with some care and conscientiousness (proper temperature-control, monitoring and frequent quality control), lower-alcohol beers can provide a barrel-aged tasting experience unlike those provided by the boozier norm. Take for instance a new release from Benchmark Brewing Company, their flagship Belgian-style singel—which comes in at a whopping 4% alcohol-by-volume (ABV)—aged in used wine barrels for more than half a year. The fact the beer (a standout in its unaged form) is so light in body and ABV allows Benchmark Table Beer On Oak to explode on the nose and palate with an almost completely unimpeded essence of American oak. Taking a whiff matches the olfactory experience of walking through a winery’s barrel room. Vanilla, violet, earth and funk intertwine into a telltale bouquet. It’s more of the same on the palate plus spiciness from the beer’s Belgian yeast profile, a bit of tropical fruit and yuzu, followed by a lasting barrel mustiness in the finish. Benchmark’s brew crew took a significant chance with this aging project, but it pays off with every complex sip.
From the Brewery: “Barrel-aged beer is something we’ve been dabbling in for a while. This is a fun side note to Benchmark’s central mission of brewing beer we want to take home and drink every day. Starting with a small Belgian-style beer is likely unexpected for many folks, but we love this beer and believe it deserves to be celebrated. Our first offering of Table Beer on Oak is a more traditional take on this beer. It was aged for seven months in a Justin Winery red-wine barrel, then (my wife and co-owner) Rachael and I blended it back to find a tasty balance between the beer and the wood. The oak brings out the spicy, earthy notes that are already in Table Beer, and is balanced by the hint of acid and the citrus-like character of the base beer. Bottle-conditioning offers a much more traditional carbonation level for the style, a softer mouthfeel and allows the natural biscuity notes to shine. It’s a small beer and we have taken care of the aging for you, so go ahead and crack the bottle open soon and enjoy. We plan to continue to dabble with a handful of barrels, and we will release the next batch when the beer lets us know the time has come.”—Matt Akin, Owner & Brewmaster, Benchmark Brewing Company
From the Beer Writer: Last year, Benchmark Brewing Company began canning beers in its Parks Collection series. The first to get the cylinder treatment was an extra pale ale (or XPA, acronym purism be damned) called Benchmark Beaten Path. Like the vast majority of this Grantville brewery’s beers, it is beautiful in its simplicity, relying on nothing more than traditional ale-brewing ingredients to carry the day. And while Citra hops are at the forefront of this sunny seasonal, they are in perfect balance, enough that rather than shove their way to the forefront, they casually make their presence known from sip to swallow care of citrus notes lifted by light carbonation and accentuated by a hint of malt sweetness. Four-packs of the beer recently went on sale at Benchmark’s tasting room, making this the perfect time to give this fresh, rather silky pale ale a try. Last year, it was a beer I consumed more than just about any other of its kind. It’s an ideal summertime beer for those who value balanced craftsmanship and hops presented in perfect proportions.
From the Brewers: “This beer was originally designed to celebrate the fifth anniversary of SD DrinkAbout: five percent alcohol-by-volume, five ingredients, five years. It was brewed totally Iron Chef style, because the turnaround on the beer needed to be fast, so we could only use ingredients we already had in-house. The five ingredients are oats, California Ale yeast, water, pale malt and Citra hops. Beaten Path highlights and celebrates the amazing flavor and aroma of this hop. The resulting beer is something that is just so easy to drink, bright and juicy with a smooth body, it is totally crushable. It comes in 16-ounce cans and is available on draft. We make this beer about four times a year, and the entire team here just itches for the next brew every time it runs out.”—Matt Akin, Co-owner & Brewmaster, Benchmark Brewing Company
Last year, while conversing with the owners of Benchmark Brewing Company, they mentioned their interest in building a satellite tasting facility. Being tucked within Central San Diego’s Grantville community, doing so would allow the business to reach a broader audience. At the time, they were interested in coastal North County, Oceanside to be exact. It seemed challenging geographically, but there was no denying the increased exposure that would come with that expanding. This weekend, while inquiring about the progress of that project, I learned it had been abandoned…because Benchmark owners Matt and Rachael Akin just signed the lease on a space in Bay Park.
Located at 4112 Napier Street, the future sampling space will provide indoor and outdoor options for patrons. There will be roughly 1,000 square feet of interior space, outfitted with roll-up windows giving way to the street. An additional 1,500 square feet of space will be provided via an outdoor backyard patio of sorts. That area will be equipped with a fire-pit and half of it will be covered. The aesthetic will closely mirror Benchmark’s Grantville tasting room and, like that venue, the Bay Park facility will be family- and dog-friendly. The building currently sports a mural that will be painted over with a “vintage-looking, hand-painted sign”.
The Akins have yet to determine an exact opening time-frame, but figure to have the tasting room operational and accepting visitors this summer. At that point, beer will be available for on-site consumption, as well as to-go in growlers and four-packs of cans.
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