When I go to Vista, it usually has something to do with beer. Seventeen brewhouses call the hourglass shaped North County city home, offering at least that many reasons to visit. However, twelve of them sit in the lower bell, located south of Highway 78, which means I’m much more likely to visit the industrial parks of Vista than I am its historic downtown.
Which is a shame, because after more than a year away, during a recent visit to Vista Village, I found it thriving. I spotted new restaurants and construction projects, a proliferation of street art, and the early stirrings of a lively Saturday night crowd.
Of course, not to be out of character, this trip had something to do with beer. Bear Roots Brewing Taproom, originally launched in the back of a homebrew supply shop of the same name in 2015, is just a mile and a half outside the village. But in May, it expanded into a second location, a small taproom on Broadway, only a block from each of the Village’s four other brewery properties: Wavelength Brewing Company, the Mother Earth Tap House, Backstreet Brewery, and the Belching Beaver Tavern.
That forms a bone fide beer crawl, and I didn’t expect the new Bear Roots location from being much more than a pop-up taproom serving beer to those craft fans seeking to walk between beer destinations. Instead I found a colorful, welcoming space, light and appealing enough to attract regular folk — i.e., not beer nerds — and keep them coming back.
The décor builds off a rustic theme, with unpolished wood and tree trunks lining the back of the bar, itself a cross section of tree. Leafy plants, hanging alongside edison bulbs, add bright green contrast to the wood space, which is otherwise equipped with used bourbon barrels to rest your beer on. The taproom offers food service supported by neighboring businesses, and a number of television screens, tuned to preseason football when I arrived. However, if you like to avoid any additional screen time in your life, several tables line up below large picture windows that look out into the Village, allowing plenty of natural light in the process.
Because the Bear Roots brewery sits inside a homebrew shop, its bar tends to draw a heavily knowledgeable crowd, including a spate of regulars there to compare recipes and techniques. You’ll find less of that here; it’s more like a comfortable little bar than an educational establishment.
But that doesn’t mean my usual litany of beer questions weren’t met with detailed answers, including a hand-written list enumerating the hop additions of each hoppy brew on tap. A $10 flight nets you five, 5-ounce tasters of mostly to-style beers, and I made sure to include pours of Pineappless Express, a hazy but not opaque IPA that carries flavors of its tropical namesake despite containing zero fruit.
My beers all tasted flawless, even the ones that got a little more playful. A splash of the Latham red IPA did reveal fruit: puréed raspberry, overriding hop bitterness with a serious jamlike flavor. For fun, my bartender suggested I add a splash of it to the brewery’s best known beer, Bear Cookie, a peanut butter stout that’s luxuriously rich with roasty chocolate and huge peanutty aroma. Combined, the two beers evoke a peanut butter and jelly sensation; kind of comforting, just like this perfect little Vista Village drinking place.