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
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.
Soon, Benchmark Brewing Company will offer canned beers as well as an al fresco space to enjoy aluminized libations. Owners Matt and Rachael Akin recently signed a lease on a business park space just west of the one that houses their brewery and tasting room. That facility includes a 2,500-square-foot gated, outdoor space that will be converted into a beer garden.
Keeping in line with this family-run operation’s our-own-eight-hands MO, Rachael is in charge of the design aspects of Benchmark’s “Backyard.” Per her rendering, the area will be outfitted with picnic tables and an old trailer that will be converted into a back bar. Lights will be strung and some planters will bring flora and fauna into the equation. The layout will allow customers to order from pull-up food trucks without having to set down their beers. Additionally, a giant Jenga site, corn-hole and a table-sized cribbage board (for which beer glasses will double as markers) will up the entertainment value. Further down the road, a stage will be constructed if the Akins are able to obtain a live music provision.
Initially, the Backyard will be open Fridays through Sundays. The Akins hope to have it open in time for their two-year anniversary event, which will take place in late June. But that’s not the only new development they hope to unveil prior to that date. Rachael has also been at work designing 16-ounce cans for Benchmark’s Table Beer, Amber Ale and IPA, and the interior of the newly leased suite will be used to store those receptacles. Once filled, Benchmark will self-distribute their beers throughout San Diego County.