Barbara Zaragoza 9:30 a.m., Jan. 30
Beer Touring: Oceanside Ale Works
The next stop on the tour was to a place I hadn’t been in ages. Back in 2007, when I visited my uncle-in-law in Oceanside, we would regularly head to a nearby business park to visit a small brewery that, were it not for the stainless steel tanks, could have easily been mistaken for a bar. There wasn’t one time I didn’t have to wade through a sea of people to get a glass stein of Oceanside Ale Works beer.
The brews were never the main reason I went. They were OK, but nothing to write home about or venture all the way from my Rancho Bernardo domicile for. What was enjoyable was the setting: everyday people, many of them regulars, knocking off on a Friday night or going at it hard mid-day on a Saturday. Their events often featured live music as well as local food vendors (and this was way ahead of the food truck thing).
Best of all, owner Mark Purciel, who is a very nice guy beloved by his patrons (quite a few of whom he taught in his former life as a teacher), was almost always there, making the rounds with a beer in hand, chatting with nearly everybody, and making sure they were having a good time. Meh beer or not, I couldn’t help but want this guy to succeed.
And succeed he has. In 2010, Purciel and company moved Oceanside Ale Works from their out-of-the-way business park to another, much larger out-of-the-way business park with tons more space (1800 Ord Way), but the same basic MO: Make beer, but more than anything, provide a bar-like party atmosphere in which to down that beer.
It’s hard to go from packing a tiny, narrow, standard-issue suite to capacity (or often overflow), to replicating that high level of patronage in a space over double that size, but I’ll be damned if they haven’t. When I showed up, the place was packed and in full swing.
The strangest aspect of this steadily increasing patronage—the beer hasn’t improved. Their Buccaneer Blonde, a simple, low-alcohol refresher that was always inconsistent, but sometimes really good, tasted heavy on the palate with pronounced canned corn notes, which are often associated with DMS (Diamethyl Sulfide).
An oatmeal stout was alright, and the first colder sips of an imperial porter made me think I could probably make it through the entire 12 ounces, but as both warmed up they became progressively worse. The stout remained drinkable, but the imperial porter went from having faint malted milk ball nuances to tasting a bit like dark chocolate-covered aspirin. A good portion of that beer and the Buccaneer ended up walking the plank.
On the brighter side, the IPA and and an “extreme” pale ale tasted better and more to style. When put up against similar beers from other local breweries, they would come in as only OK, but that's better than poor and far from unacceptable. An instance that registered as the latter is what caused me to stop going to Oceanside Ale Works back in 2009 when my uncle-in-law, who was by then a fervent regular, purchased a growler of their red ale and returned home with it to find he had a glass jug that was mostly full of unpalatable sediment.
From a beer perspective, things could have been better, but it was hard to feel bad for anybody at Oceanside Ale Works, patron or employee. Clearly, the company is making plenty of money. Best of all, Purciel and his colleagues are doing it in the exact manner they want to—by having fun. That was one of the happiest tasting room crowds I’ve ever seen, and these days, that can’t be discounted.
So, while I can’t recommend the beer to those for whom it’s all about the beer, if you really don’t care about the technical merits of your brews, but like having a pint or four with your buds, you won’t be disappointed by the atmosphere Oceanside Ale Works provides. In fact, you’ll probably have a really awesome time. It's hard to say anything negative about that, especially when there's clearly a market for it.