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: Today marks the start of the ninth annual San Diego Beer Week. Taking place from November 3-12 throughout the county, it’s a little idea that’s grown to gargantuan status. I remember the first meeting I had with a San Diego Brewers Guild member where they introduced the idea to me. It seemed like a fantastic idea, but I wondered how much noise our smattering of, then, around 25 or 30 breweries would be able to make. Turns out, a whole lot. So much, that by the second and third editions of SDBW, ours was among the best regional beer weeks in the country. And it all stemmed from the heavy lifting of those industry veterans, the example they set in year one and continue to set with each run of this ten-day celebration of locally produced ales and lagers. The 100-plus new breweries that have debuted since have happily and zealously picked up the torch and endeavored to help put on promotions that push the envelope and go beyond everyday events and festivals; individually and in unison. For the latter efforts, the Guild remains the prime mechanism for planning and execution. That organization is celebrating its 20th year of operation this Beer Week. In recognition of that milestone, Guild member breweries that have been operating for 20 years or more (AleSmith Brewing, Coronado Brewing, Karl Strauss Brewing, Oggi’s, Pizza Port, San Marcos Brewery and Stone Brewing) got together to conceive the recipe for a special IPA that will make its official debut at the official opening event of SDBW, tonight’s Guild Fest VIP Brewer Takeover at downtown’s Broadway Pier. Brewed with Vic Secret, Idaho 7 and Motueka hops donated by BSG CraftBrewing plus whole-cone Cascade hops from Star B Ranch and Hop Farm, as well as San Diego Super Ale yeast from Miramar institution White Labs, the beer comes in at 7% alcohol-by-volume. To give all Guild members a hand in the beer, breweries were encouraged to submit potential names for it. Those monikers were later voted on by the membership, resulting in the apt handle Capital of Craft IPA. Kegs of this limited-edition brew will be distributed to events and accounts throughout San Diego County, and a portion of profits from the beer (which was brewed at Coronado Brewing’s Bay Park facility on a day that saw dozens of local brewers venture there to participate) will go to the Guild to aid its ongoing efforts to raise awareness about its members and the importance of supporting local, independent craft brewing companies.
From the Veteran Brewery Owners: “What an awesome opportunity for all of us here in the San Diego brewing community to get together and make this incredible beer! Some of us have been around for 20-plus years and some for just a few. It was great to see all the brewers and Guild members who came out, old and new, to brew this beer. It really shows how far our industry has come and that we have a really bright future ahead of us. By the way, did I mention that the beer turned out epic?”—Rick Chapman, Co-owner, Coronado Brewing Company
“When the San Diego Brewers Guild was founded, I was lucky to be a part of a very small, informal group of people who casually met up once a month. Everyone present had a common goal to unite and share ideas to promote our passion for craft beer. Although that hasn’t changed, the explosive brewery growth in San Diego has allowed so much experience over the years for us to grow the Guild into such an amazing, organized resource. Many thanks to many people. Cheers!”—Gina Marsaglia, Co-owner, Pizza Port
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.
One of the reasons San Diego brewers enjoy the camaraderie and success they do is the 1997 establishment of the San Diego Brewers Guild (SDBG). Back then, there were far fewer brewing companies in San Diego County, but visionaries from some of those veteran operations realized that strength in numbers would be key for development and promotion of the local industry. This year, the SDBG will celebrate its 20th year of collective success. In doing so, it will gather its longest-tenured while drawing off the innovation of all of its 100-plus members.
Later this month, Coronado Brewing Company will host a collaboration brew day during which brewers from SDBG member breweries will be invited to participate in the brewing of a special beer to commemorate the big two-zero. The recipe for that beer, a fittingly San Diego-style India pale ale (IPA), was developed by brewers at Coronado, Karl Strauss Brewing Company, Pizza Port, Stone Brewing, San Diego Brewing Company, AleSmith Brewing Company and San Marcos Brewery and Grill.
The beer will come in around 7% alcohol-by-volume and be double-dry-hopped with Idaho 7, Motueka and Vic Secret hops. Additional hops will be donated by Fallbrook’s Star B Ranch and Hop Farm. Yeast was donated by Miramar-based White Labs while remaining ingredients were provided by BSG CraftBrewing. Additionally, El Cajon’s Taylor Guitars is partnering to provide old ebony fret boards from its African mill. That reclaimed wood will be fashioned into tap handles branded with the SDBG logo for this celebratory IPA.
Kegs from the 60-barrel batch will debut during San Diego Beer Week, which will take place from November 3 to 12. Coronado will also take the lead getting the beer out via its distribution partner, Crest Beverage. The beer will be available at retail accounts throughout the county, and make its official debut on November 3 during Guild Fest’s VIP Brewer Takeover at the Port Pavilion on downtown’s Broadway Pier. Proceeds from the beer will be donated to the Guild by Coronado once the beer sells through.
While Coronado is the hub this time around, the SDBG hopes to create collaboration beers on an annual basis and rotate the brewery at which they are produced each time. To get everyone involved during this inaugural brew, SDBG members were asked to submit suggested names for the beer, a short-list of which will be voted on by the membership this month.
From the Beer Writer: One goal of the West Coaster Beer of the Week is to help people discover special, high-quality beers they might not otherwise come across (and in some cases sadly find out about after they tap out). In the case of this week’s featured beer, there were plenty of people in the know and willing to point me in its direction. The day I was headed to the East Village’s Half Door Brewing Company, I shared my eventual destination with a pair of beer drinkers. Their eyes lit up as they blurted out the same thing: “Buzzwords!” It was the beer I was en route to sample. Nothing like finding out you’re on the right track. If you haven’t yet heard of this beer (or been keyed in by the aforementioned boisterous brew fans), allow me to introduce you to Half Door #Buzzwords. This highly-hopped pale ale revels in its en vogue nature (i.e., it’s hazy, bro). Pop-culture adjectives like “juicy” and “dank” fully apply, as the beer comes across more like grapefruit juice or a mimosa on the front-end, before a pleasant punch of pine finishes things out, reminding you that you are, in fact, enjoying a beer, and a delicious one at that. #Buzzwords revels in appealing to craft fans’ current tastes while staying true to traditional flavors from household-name hops.
From the Brewers: “#Buzzwords is our super-dank, 8.7% (alcohol-by-volume) India pale ale. It was the first hazy double IPA that we made, using a simple grain bill of Pilsner malt and flaked wheat. We use hops throughout the hot and cold side starting with mash-hopping, first wort hops and a generous dose in the whirlpool. On the cold side, depending on scheduling with yeast, we will either do one or two dry hops and the beer finishes around two-and-a-half to three pounds per barrel total. We ferment #Buzzwords with London Ale 3 yeast and adjust the water profile to a 2.5 to 1 ratio of chloride to sulfate. We mix as many hops as we have on hand but make sure to go heavy with Chinook or Simcoe, then balance using numerous hops of New Zealand origin, mostly Southern Cross and Motueka. The result is a beer with notes of tropical fruit…mostly pineapple and mango…plus some lingering pine and grapefruit citrus in the finish.”—Daniel Drayne, Head Brewer, Half Door Brewing Company