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Where the wild ales are

Sorrento Valley beer gets sour on weekends

A flight of sour wild ales
A flight of sour wild ales
Place

California Wild Ales

4202 Sorrento Valley Boulevard, San Diego

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.

Brewer Cameron Pryor engages with customers, while a dog watches the door.

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.

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A flight of sour wild ales
A flight of sour wild ales
Place

California Wild Ales

4202 Sorrento Valley Boulevard, San Diego

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.

Brewer Cameron Pryor engages with customers, while a dog watches the door.

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.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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