Walter Mencken 11 a.m., May 24
Tales from the north: Barley & Hops
Yesterday, I provided the lowdown on Ironfire Brewing Company, a newly installed microbrewery in Temecula. While interviewing the business’ owners, we chatted about the small but promising craft beer scene developing in that wine-driven burg. Up until then, the tone of our convo had been very happy, but amidst all the good news about their company, they did have some bad news to report. My favorite beer-focused restaurant in the area had recently closed.
It was a place that, from the outside, looked pretty much like any other nondescript strip mall eatery, unless you caught a glimpse of the menu on one of the wrought iron patio tables. The thing was thick! If page count determined a menu’s worth, Cheesecake Factory would be king. We all know that’s not true (I hope), so sheer volume doesn’t impress me. What I did find magnificent about this place’s bill of fare was the fact that many-paged menu had zero food offerings in it. That bulky piece of literature was just their beer menu!
Barley & Hops—that was the name of this magnificent place. I visited it numerous times during trips to visit family, before concerts at Pechanga, and after beer and winery touring, and always liked it. In fact, I had planned on heading over—this time with a camera—to finally get the necessary photos to share with you, dear readers, the best aspects of this restaurant, which in addition to offering hundreds of beers from all over the planet, also had some seriously tasty eats. Alas, that article will never be written. In its place is this posthumous lament and too-late testament to what was, in my humble opinion, the best place to enjoy good beer and good food in tandem in Temecula (and many of its surrounding communities, for that matter).
Barley & Hops’ merits were many, but the place would have been noteworthy among beerophiles for the singular fact the venue had connections with beer geek favorite, Russian River Brewing Company. Owner and brewmaster Vinnie Cilurzo has roots—grapevines, actually—in Temecula, where he grew up working at the family business, Cilurzo Winery (which has since been sold and is now the site of Bella Vista Winery). As such, he kept Blind Pig IPA, Pliny the Elder double IPA, and other treasured finds from his brewhouse rolling in to Barley & Hops. So much for that.
It’s a shame this business didn’t make it. It was probably a case of being ahead of the curve—too much craft beer focus for a community that lacks such focus just yet. Also, I suspect there was simply too much square footage; too many seats without the broad appeal to draw enough customers to fill them. The prices may have been a bit on the high side, as well, especially for products most of the patrons they were shopped to didn’t fully understand.
At any rate, for those who liked it and were planning a return trip, Barley & Hops is no more. RIP, trailblazers, and best of luck to any new restaurateurs who pick up where they left off.