A large barrel shaped space is the centerpiece of Wild Barrel's tasting room
A new brewery opened along highway 78 through San Marcos this month. However, Wild Barrel Brewing already has the feel of an established beer company. Part of that is due to the top-to-bottom quality of its beers. But most has to do with the combined decades of experience possessed by its ownership team.
692 Rancheros Drive, San Marcos
"I've been around craft beer for 42 years now," says Bill Sysak, noting his interest started when he was 15, long before he worked as a brand ambassador for Stone Brewing or as an instructor for SDSU's Business of Craft Beer program. With a high profile and longstanding connections in the global beer community, Sysak has worked as a consultant for brewery startups in his time, and he’s been invited to join a few.
A San Marcos brewery visible from highway 78
"The last 20 years, people had approached me to open up breweries," he says, "because I had the reputation of being this grandfather of beer geeks…and had a lot of connections " But with a personal cellar of more than 2500 beers and a penchant for dinner pairings, he'd always imagined himself opening a pub.
But when a business-savvy friend, Chris White, approached him with the idea for Wild Barrel, it stuck. "I was at Stone watching all these people open breweries and making mistakes," Sysak recalls. "People coming on board that didn't have a good business plan, that had too small a system, that weren't brewing quality beers." He knew he and White could do better.
He already had a talented brewer in mind: Bill Sobieski, a 25-year homebrewer and president emeritus of local home brewing club Society of Barley Engineers. Sobieski joined the partnership and dedicated himself to the effort, working in local brewhouses to log time on professional systems before it came time to brew the first batches for Wild Barrel.
"With our collective experience and reputations, the deal is, we're not releasing any beers unless they're in the 90th percentile," says Sysak. "We want them to be great; if not, we're dumping them."
The 15-barrel brewery hasn't dumped any beer yet, beginning with beer styles Sysak says any San Diego beer business must offer to compete, including a pair of IPAs and a coffee milk stout. Also on tap are several fruited variants of the same base Berliner weiss. These kettle sours were the first step in a long-term plan that puts the wild in Wild Barrel's name: an ambitious barrel-aged sour program.
Last month, Wild Barrel brought on Preston Weesner as a fourth partner. The former master blender of Oregon's premier sour-beer producer, Cascade Brewing, will commute from Portland to oversee production of wild and mixed-fermentation ales, ultimately including spontaneous beers, naturally fermented with whatever yeast is floating in the air.
Sysak says the team won't rush any of this. But their plans for the future appear fully fleshed out. In the next couple years, Wild Barrel hopes to expand its 10,000-square-foot brewery into 4500 square feet of adjacent suite space, develop a line bourbon-barrel-aged stouts, and begin opening tasting rooms in Los Angeles, Orange County, and the Inland Empire.
For now, it's already a worthy beer destination along the Hops Highway.