One of the biggest surprises is CRAFT BREWERIES. We typically aren’t beer drinkers, but with over 100 options near home, we decided to explore the offerings.
We learned that we love BARREL AGED BEER. In San Diego County, the two primary types of barrel aged beer are sour beers (typically aged in wine barrels) and strong beers (usually aged in whiskey, rum, brandy, or tequila barrels). A beer that aged in wooden barrels or contact with any wood source is intended to impart the unique character of the wood itself or a combination of the wooden vessel and what it previously stored. Our favorite is bourbon barrel aged beer. Bourbon barrel aged beer tends to be strong to hold up to the flavor imparted from the whiskey-soaked barrels. The bourbon barrel aged beer is sophisticated in taste and texture. It becomes infused with smoke, vanilla and caramel flavors, as well as having a slight tannin structure from the wooden barrel. Served cold in most cases, we find that as the beer warms to room temperature, it begins to mellow out and impart a completely different flavor. Perhaps we enjoyed this style of beer a little too much because we have engaged ourselves with a mission to find the best barrel aged beer offerings in the area.
The following are some of our favorite discoveries. Please note that barrel aged beers are not always available and are still somewhat challenging to find. We did our search, however, and found some great beer. The following are our top 10 breweries in San Diego County that serve barrel aged beer. Have fun with some tasty samples!
Located in the beer-centric Miramar neighborhood, Saint Archer offers some tasty options. Their “Tusk and Grain” brand features smooth and complex barrel aged beer. Saint Archer’s barrel age program is possibly the most robust we have experienced. The operation has 120 barrels, including Macallan whiskey, tequila, port, brandy, and sauvignon blanc. Over our past two visits, we sampled 6 beers: Barrel Blend #1 (a delicious blend of barley wine, imperial porter, an imperial stout), Barrel Aged Imperial Stout, Barrel Aged Imperial Stout with vanilla, Barrel Aged Imperial Porter, Barrel Aged Barley Wine, and Barrel Aged Porter with Mexican Chocolate (casked). The last one was our absolute favorite. It was casked, the beverage was less carbonated and warmer. Both of these enhanced the flavor. So good! Go before they run out! If they do, no worries as many more varieties are in the pipeline and are sure to please.
Tasty beer in Temecula Wine Country? Yes! In fact, with a few exceptions, we say skip wine country and head over to the cluster of breweries situated West of the 15. Refuge Brewery is a fun place to relax and drink beer. Saddle up to the bar and engage in great conversation with other patrons. Talk with the servers. They are incredibly passionate and knowledgeable about Refuge’s offerings. Although this is a smaller brewery, Refuge offers up to 20 beers on tap, many of which are barrel aged in whiskey or wine barrels. We enjoyed a tasting flight that included: Palumbo Reserve (a Belgian Tripel made in collaboration with Palumbo Winery), Batch III (a Belgian quad aged in red wine barrels), and Barrely Standing on Nitro and in CO2 (a Belgian style Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels). Barrely Strong was, by far, our favorite. At first pour, Tom preferred the nitro, while I enjoyed the CO2. However, once the temperature of the beer warmed a bit, our preferences flip-flopped. It’s incredible how much temperature is a huge factor in taste! In general, we like to sip on barrel aged beer when it’s been sitting at room temperature for about 20 minutes. If you enjoy the smooth, rich nuances of barrel aged beer, be sure to check out Refuge Brewery!
Wiens is another fantastic brewery in Temecula. It is across the street from Refuge. Be sure to visit both places whenever you’re in town. During our most recent visit, there were three barrel aged options: Crowded 2015 10.5% ABV, End Of The World 9.5% ABV, and Imperial Stout 10.5% ABV. Our favorite with the Crowded 2015, which is Wiens’ Third Anniversary Ale, a blend of the brewery’s barrel, aged and limited beers. Smooth, complex, and fantastic to savor.
Founded in 1995, Alesmith celebrated its’ 20th anniversary by moving into a new monolithic brewery and tasting room. It’s clean, open, and airy. In other words, it’s geared up for hoards of beer drinkers to stop by for a beer or three. Although we typically don’t like large tasting rooms (which means less opportunity to interact with workers to find out more about the product), the barrel aged beer is tasty. Be sure to check their website before you visit to see if there are any barrel aged offerings as they often tap out. The last time we visited, they didn’t have any of our favorites, hence our suggestion to check out the website. However, if they do offer our favorite barrel aged beers: Speedway Stout and Wee Heavy, head over before they tap out!
Open since 2006; the San Marcos tasting room offers 26 taps of beer. Cross your fingers that they are pouring one of the brewery’s barrel-aged masterpieces. They have a fantastic, well-established barrel program. One of their former colleagues now oversees the Tusk and Grain Label at Saint Archer. Most recently, we enjoyed Track #10 13.5 ABV, a smooth and creamy beer. Some of our other favorites include Santa’s Little Helper and Older Viscosity.
Quite honestly, Dark Days (14.4%) is our favorite barrel aged beer. Luckily, it is located in our hometown of Vista! The reason Iron Fist is lower on the list is that it is the brewery’s only barrel aged option and it can only be purchased in bottles. However, this beer, which is aged in rum barrels, is the smoothest, creamiest, and most flavorful of barrel-aged beers in San Diego County. Be sure to pick up a bottle or two the next time you stop by the brewery!
The Great American Beer Festival named Rip Current Brewing 2015 Very Small Brewing Company and Brewer of the Year. It is no surprise that this gem in San Marcos has a great selection of beer, including barrel-aged ones. Currently, Rescue Buoy (14%), a barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stout is available on tap and in bottles. Be sure to try this tasty goodness before they sell out! If so, keep checking in as more barrel-aged options are in the pipeline.
Stone is one of those monster brewing companies that is still a craft brewery at heart. The beers are always on rotation, so be sure to get your fill if you enjoy one before it taps out! Some of the tasty barrel aged beers are bottled, just in case you want to stock up. A favorite is the Xocoveza Charred (10%) which is a lovely smoky mocha stout.
What started as a hobby has turned into a full-fledged craft brewery. Be sure to try a side-by-side tasting of their Emboozlement Tripel (9%) and Freudian Sip (9.5%) with their barrel-aged counterparts! It’s a fantastic way to see how aging in barrels affects the taste and character of the beer. We love the smoothness of the barrel aged Freudian Sip and the light yet well-bodied barrel aged Emboozlement Tripel.
- Acoustic Ales
Located in San Diego’s historic Mission Brewery Plaza, Acoustic Ales has been serving brews since 2012. The brewery took their Unplugged beer, imperial chocolate, and oatmeal stout and aged it in oak bourbon barrels for a year (12.5%). If you get a chance, do a side by side tasting of the first stout and the barrel aged version. There is a stark difference between the two. We were lucky enough to try the casked version. If you ever get a chance, taste a casked beer. It’s warmer, less carbonated, and more smooth and flavorful.
San Diego County is known for its hoppy IPA. However, barrel aged beer is becoming very popular and more readily available around the county. Although we prefer and focused on the deep, bold and complex barrel aged stouts, and Belgian Triple and Quads, there are some breweries offering barrel aged sours. Whatever your type, be sure to go out and explore the fantastic Craft Breweries of San Diego County(map)!
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