4202 Sorrento Valley Boulevard, Sorrento Valley
It feels sort of like walking into a microbrewery fifteen years ago, when some of us still called them that. California Wild Ales is a bit of warehouse space, inside an old Sorrento Valley business park, beer being poured out of jockey boxes behind a long bar fashioned from a conference table that’s been sawed in half. Tying the room together a wall of repurposed wood is populated by painted creatures reminiscent of the beasts in children’s book Where the Wild Things Are.
The low-key atmosphere is less due to lack of effort than lack of startup cash. Embracing discarded furniture and low-cost components, the partners behind California Wild Ales have pieced this brewery together over the past couple years without traditional financing or debt accumulation. Part of the reason they could do so is they haven’t had to invest in the stainless steel brewing vessels most breweries bank on.
Instead, this room is stacked with oak barrels. California Wild Ales doesn’t make fresh beer, at all. Instead, it acquires wort from local breweries, trucking it here to produce mixed fermentation ales, made with wild yeasts, bacteria, and sometimes fruit. In other words: sour beer.
You really have to be a fan of sour flavors to appreciate what these guys do. And patient. These beers take from months to over a year to produce, and though they’ve had this space for two years, California Wild Ales only started serving in its tasting room for the first time on a weekend this April.
They’ve been keeping weekend hours since, and when I rolled in on a Saturday afternoon, I didn’t find the usual, young front of house hires pouring drinks. The bar was manned instead by owners Zack Brager, Bill DeWitt, and Cameron Pyror (who is also head brewer). They were pouring beer or chatting with friends, customers, and industry colleagues, a dozen or so customers including men and women, some accompanied by a baby, a toddler, or dog (full disclosure: the dog was mine). As I drank, people came and went, including an impeccably dressed young man picking up a couple bottles to take to a wedding, and a couple celebrating their own anniversary with a leisurely beer crawl.
First on the board was a salted yuzu sour the brewery had just released in bottles. Yuzu, a Japanese lemon, melds well with a sour ale, and the addition of Maldon’s sea salt contributes to a pleasant lemon candy experience. A guava sour, also featured in bottles, bore more of a white wine tartness around a fruit-forward sour with low carbonation. Inspired by a dessert he experienced on a trip in Mexico City, Pryor made a cinnamon variant of the guava beer, lending greater complexity that seemed to add more than a simple layer of spice.
Less successful was the beer called Flandersish, which sought to make the best of a Flanders style red sour ale that hadn’t come through as planned. I’m a little more acid-sensitive than most, but the acid balance struck me as out of whack, overborn by a base flavor that, I only later realized, reminded me of Laffy Taffy.
The vibe at California Wild Ales may feel more like earlier days of San Diego beer, but the flavors you’ll encounter will definitely not.