“The beer is just good! That’s why I come back all the time.”
2870 Scott Street #102, None
So says a guy to my left, loud enough the whole tasting room can here. A few of us nod along. He’s not wrong. The flight in front of me confirms it.
We’re sitting in BattleMage Brewing Company, the Vista brewery with an unabashed fondness for fantasy novels and role-playing games. There’s no football on the TV screen near the bar: instead it’s showing World of Warcraft, a stream of the videogame being played online by a precocious gamer. Over the bar looms a large dragon figurine, and in the corner a replica of the iron throne from the Game of Thrones television show offers fans a photo op.
As a beer industry niche, this subcultural affinity has its appeal, attracting like-minded fans to the Battlemage tasting room from as far away as Los Angeles. Even as a casual fantasy fan, I can find joy in deciphering BattleMage beer names, which usually play off a reference to something in the fantasy cannon. For example, a new hazy IPA on the board features all New Zealand origin hops — Motueka and Nelson — so in honor of the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy being filmed there, brewery fans on social media voted to give it the Gollum-inspired name, Filthy Hoppitses.
But like the man said, not everyone shows up for the decorative theme, because the beer tastes fantastic. Owners and brewing tandem Chris Barry and Ryan Sather refined their skills as homebrew shop employees, and most days you’ll find one or both of them working the bar, talking beer and beer styles, or fantasy lore if your game. This could change soon as they ready a small expansion. With tasting room sales steady and a growing handful of wholesale accounts, the partners are adding new, 20-barrel fermenting tanks to their small brewery, doubling the amount of beer they can produce. It means they’ll have to spend a little more time making beer, a little less time pouring it.
Consider that a win for those who don’t live in the vicinity of Vista. More beer means more distribution, which means more local beer fans will have a chance to discover BattleMage beers in their favorite local bars. There are also plans to sell beer in cans for the first time, out of the tasting room to start.
One of the first beers to look for in cans will be a series of beers called Divine Light (a reference to the gaming series, Final Fantasy). Brewed with lager malts and ale yeast, Divine Light indeed drinks light, under 5 percent, and exceptionally dry. So dry, even fruit additions do little to sweeten it. I start my flight (served on a battle axe shaped tray) with both cherry and apricot versions, and in each case the fruit lends distinct aromatics yet none of the syrupy texture I most fear in fruited ales. I tire of most cherry beers by the end of a pint, but this I could drink all day.
I found a similar dryness anchored in toffee notes in the English brown ale Verses of Victory (see EverQuest), and again in Battlemage’s core west coast IPA, Hopdouken (see Street Fighter).
BattleMage may hold extra appeal to those who enjoy a terrific fantasy lit pun, but it’s first and foremost a San Diego craft brewery. And by the rules of this realm, it will be an exciting one to watch in 2019.