It’s been a year since Anheuser-Busch subsidiary 10 Barrel Brewing Co. opened its controversial, multimillion dollar, East Village brewpub amid an epic troll battle with local craft breweries, beer media, and fans.
1501 E Street, East Village
That made me overdue a visit to the shiny venue, so I dropped by on a Tuesday night — trivia night — to try a flight of beer. I found a crowd any small brewery in San Diego would envy. The brewpub’s rooftop patio, where I had been hoping to drink, was closed for a private event, so the entire ground floor was especially packed, from dining room to taproom.
The taproom is backed by a 20-barrel brewhouse, leaving a narrow bar space fronted by high-top tables where guests drink five-dollar pints and eat pizza. It might feel cozy, except the bar’s draft system creates a tall fence of tap handles at the front of the bar, creating a physical barrier between bartenders and guests.
Of the twenty beers on tap, I spotted a handful I wanted to try, but that’s not how flights work here: you don’t get to pick which beers you sample, nor how many. Every flight is the same: ten four-ounce tasters of house beer for 10 bucks. I had to order a little food to go with that much beer, which might be the point.
The ten small glasses fit into two rows of a long metal rack, numbered 1 to 10. Each number corresponded to a beer featured on the menu, but not in any sequential order. Trying to keep track which beer I was drinking felt like looking up footnoted citations for a term paper.
I waded through styles ranging from a Canadian style lager to a roasty porter, with plenty of hoppy ales in between. None of these brews drank particularly crisp, several didn’t taste fresh, and a Calypso single hop IPA was undrinkable, tainted by the funky cheese aroma of hops well past their prime.
That sounds snarky, and I don’t enjoy saying it. I honestly looked forward to commending these beers. The 10 Barrel folks have comported themselves well in the face of an unwelcoming San Diego craft beer scene, insisting from the outset they would let the quality of the beer do the talking. Frankly, I think it makes for a better story if their beer tastes great.
However, I couldn’t shake the impression beer is the least of the reasons people visit, after food, atmosphere, and location. A first-time visitor at the bar told me he found the place by Googling the word brewery, and choosing the search result with the nicest photos.
Meanwhile, the beers aren’t saying much on their own behalf, unless you count the menu’s polished, professionally written product descriptions. I don’t know whether it’s a deliberate provocation, but either way, 10 Barrel certainly won’t win over any dedicated San Diego beer drinkers by calling its Randy Shagwell’s English pale ale, “the true mark of an ale smith.”