It’s nearly impossible to tear a month’s worth of pages off of your daily kitten calendar without a new brewery opening in San Diego. When Barrel Harbor opened its doors for business on Monday, it became the 74th brewery to call San Diego County home. Every brewery brings their own unique spin to its craft, and Barrel Harbor does it by blending old world styles with contemporary tastes.
Tucked into a Vista industrial park, Barrel Harbor is easy stumbling distance from Aztec and Belching Beaver breweries. Walk through the carpeted lobby, and you’re treated to a large tasting room with a wooden bar and plenty of standing room. While the décor is decidedly nautical, it’s not over-the-top like a tourist trap seafood restaurant. The team at Barrel Harbor wants their beer to do the talking, and talk it does.
Barrel Harbor opened for business pouring five different beers. California law expressly prohibits a brewery from operating without producing at least one IPA, and Barrel Harbor’s version is plenty hoppy with a nice maltiness. The Brown Ale and Red Ale are both fine offerings, but the Pilsner and Dry Stout are where Barrel Harbor really shines.
David Meadows, Barrel Harbor’s head brewer, is a California native who spent much of his adult life using Sweden as a home base to explore European beer culture. Using traditional German pilsner malt, Meadows put his own spin on the style by using Scandinavian lager yeast. The resulting libation has the malt profile you’d expect from a pilsner with a little something different bringing it all together.
Meadows used his connections in the European beer scene to spend time at St. James Gate Brewery, the world-famous birthplace of Guinness. Barrel Harbor’s dry stout is a throwback to the traditional Irish stout with a unique twist. Meadows sours a portion of the beer with lactic acid bacteria, and then reintroduces it to the rest of the batch. The resulting beer has a bolder hop profile than Guinness, but is just as light on the alcohol at 4.8%.
Monday was just the soft opening. A grand opening celebration is planned for October 26, and they expect to have more beers available. In the works right now is Hopportunity, a double IPA with an alcohol content that warrants a smaller glass.
With so many breweries popping up in San Diego, it’s essential that a new brewery differentiate themselves from the crowd if they are to thrive. An eclectic team with a lifetime of brewing experience is enough to get people through the door that first time, but good beer is what keeps them coming back for more. If the initial offerings are any indication, Barrel Harbor is a brewery worth watching in the coming months.
Barrel Harbor Brewing is located at 2575 Pioneer Ave. in Vista.