2575 Pioneer Avenue #104, Vista
“Are you reviewing the beers?” It was a question both innocent and unexpected.. Amazingly, this is the first time anybody has ever approached me in the middle of a quality check, so big props to the astute staff at Barrel Harbor Brewing Company (2575 Pioneer Avenue, Suite #104, Vista), not just for recognizing why I was there, but for handling it so well. Happy to stand by their product, the only reason they inquired was so that, if I wanted to try more beers, they could make sure I had the chance. To keep things as authentic as they would have been had nobody found me out, I stuck with my quintet of beers and went about my sampling.
It wasn’t my first taste of Barrel Harbor beers, but it was definitely my most enjoyable session with suds from this new operation, which had its grand opening last month. The first beers I tried were rangy in their flavor, thin in body, and simply not that impressive. The worst of the bunch was the company’s red ale, which I described as “grains gone wild.” But it's one of their best sellers, according to a very friendly and attentive member of the tasting room staff (who, I should note, had no idea I was anything other than a normal paying customer). She didn’t convince me to retry it, but she did sell me on a pilsner I normally would have abstained from. And I’m glad she did.
Though not a pils in the traditional Trumer model—super crisp and bitingly hoppy on the finish—I found it to be quite enjoyable. Subtle and balanced at just 33 International Bittering Units, it made for a decent starter. It won’t win a medal or anything, but even without assertiveness, most visitors, particularly those used to drinking lawnmower macrobeers, are bound to enjoy it. Similarly, a dry stout served on nitro makes for a nice answer to those who worship at the church of Guinness.
Another beer with roasted malt in the bill, a black India pale ale, was less assertive and a little thin. I tried to remember that I live in the IPA capital of the world and, therefore, most local black IPAs are either imperial or just overly-hopped, but even so, the beer needs more body and more hops as it currently tastes like a brown ale with a slightly increased hop dosage. The IPA is more vibrant, coming across like an orangey creamsicle at first before degrading into something a bit too sweet and persistent on the finish.
I was also surprised to come across a bit of a rarity on the beer menu—a framboise. Only mildly sweet and pleasingly sour in its raspberry-infused makeup, it wasn’t anything that will make me cheat on The Lost Abbey’s Framboise de Amarosa (the best example of this style in San Diego County), but it was darn nice and I find it admirable that this more esoteric style is being brewed by a start-up. Barrel Harbor has both a strong ale and an imperial stout en route. Used Jack Daniels barrels have been purchased for aging the latter.
Overall, I enjoyed my time at Barrel Harbor, particularly the service. Servers interact nicely and often with visitors, even going around the tasting room to check on all of them. Music is played overhead while a muted television provides unimposing visual stimulus (in my case, college football). As a bonus, the simple tasting room looks good thanks to a brilliantly designed arcing bar designed to look like a barrel.