Keeping the recreational beer drinker in mind, a number of local breweries offer games for customers to play in and around their tasting rooms. The beanbag toss game cornhole is a common sight. So is Giant Jenga. At the Carmel Mountain Ranch brewery of Second Chance Beer Co. there’s a basketball hoop. And at the Urge Gastropub in San Marcos, home to the production brewery of Mason Ale Works, there’s an entire bowling alley.
692 Rancheros Drive, San Marcos
But, arguably the best pairing of beer and play may be found across the freeway in San Marcos. Wild Barrel Brewing opened last fall, in a building it shares with SoCal Batting Center, a business whose batting cage offerings include a pro-style pitching simulator: a video pitcher winds up and delivers a pitch in sync with the pitching machine, mimicking game action.
I’d have loved that in my baseball heyday, but it’s another activity, found behind the batting cages, that caught my attention. That would be adjunct business, SoCal Axe. As in axe throwing. Yes, for 40 bucks, you and friends may try your hand hurling hatchets at large wooden bullseyes, in between beers.
That last part’s the stickler. Any beer must remain inside the tasting room, so while the businesses are connected by an open hallway, there will be no pint in one hand, axe in the other calamities.
Nevertheless, it does inform the character of Wild Barrel’s large tasting room. In addition to the usual crew of beer enthusiasts, I spotted young couples sipping beers before or after axe-tossing dates.
The batting cages drummed up casual beer drinkers too. Not the batters per se; most of those taking swings this early evening were kids and teens partaking in practice sessions with their youth baseball or softball teams. I wound up drinking beer with those kids’ parents.
It turns out, several have settled into a happy, hoppy routine, dropping off sons and daughters at the batting cages, then grabbing a pint of IPA while they wait for practice to finish.
Most were drinking Wild Barrel’s flagship Prince of Dankness, a potent double IPA made with New Zealand hops; or Space Juice, a slightly juicy, hazy IPA boasting orange and tangerine flavors of the Mandarina Bavaria hop, an aromatic varietal that’s been trending with local breweries in the past year.
I enjoyed that one myself, but devoted a couple of my two-dollar tasters to actual juice: selections from Wild Barrel’s San Diego Vice series. The same tart Berliner weisse gets blended with various fruit juices to elicit differing results. Building on the same sour toast-like base, the black currant version adopts the feel of a jammy red wine, for example, while a crushable guava take resembles an effervescent tropical punch. This round, I opted for the fruit nectar-like Mango, and Mixed Berry Bomb flavor, where boysenberry and strawberry combine to evoke a cranberry cocktail.
My preference so far is the currant, but my top beer of the session didn't lean on fruit. The Hipster imperial stout hit bold and boozy, with rich and pleasing roasted chocolate and coffee flavors. I want to go back for a full pint, plus an alternate version featuring coffee with maple syrup and vanilla. But at a hefty 11.5-percent alcohol, I will not be throwing axes after drinking them.