Editor’s Note: Undistributed beer of the week is a series that profiles a local brew only available to try on draft at specific locations in San Diego.
The competition is fierce in San Diego’s beer community, but someone has to take the title. This week’s best undistributed beer is ...
Thorn St. Brewery: Barrio
ABV: 4.5 percent
Pair with: Shrimp tacos or fresh sea bass
The summer is approaching quickly in San Diego and we have the perfect brew for you and yours to sip slowly in the warm sunshine. This week’s pick for best undistributed beer is Barrio, a lager from Thorn St. Brewery. This one comes to us from Eric O’Conner, brewmaster and co-owner at Thorn Street Brewery.
O’Conner let us in on some information about this beer, once called K-8, named after a surf spot in Baja. This beer is what you’d anticipate given that information: It is light and crisp, and a real one-or-more lager. The difference in this brew lies in the quality of the beer. It’s made with care and is equal parts refreshing and flavorful. It gets bonus points for actually offering substantial body in a lager, too.
So, why brew a lager when you have the option to craft delicious IPAs or crazily flavored coffee brews? Location, location, location - of course. While we love all styles, location is a big reason why a crafted lager really makes sense in America’s Finest City
“We made a lot of like, Czech pilsners and stuff that was lighter and people liked them. We liked them, too... but to be honest, we have a lot of people, both customers and people who work for us, that are surfers and we all kind of grew up on Modelo and Pacifico and stuff,” O’Connor said. “We were always kind of saying, even though it’s not an old world lager, we should make a beer that’s a craft version of those beers that we drank while we were growing up and going down to Baja.”
So, they did just that and they did it damn well. O’Conner’s team crafted a true craft version of the accessible and desirable lager. A lager is ideal for a day in the sun where you don’t want to give up on participating in the day’s activities - surfing, horse shoes, beach volleyball, and the likes - after a few beers (much like what can happen if you have a couple strong IPAs which may require an immediate nap).
“With this beer, you can have two, or even three and still go out and surf again or whatever you want to do. You’re not done for the day,” he said. “It was exactly what we wanted, it was the perfect beer for what we wanted. The beer caught on. We didn’t think it would be marketable against Modelo and Pacifico, but people have been asking for it more and more. Our plan is to do it at our new facility in Barrio Logan (located at 1735 National Ave.) and make it a thing."
This beer is crisp, light but has a thicker flavor. It’s got that beautiful mellow yellow color you expect from a lager with a light white head. It’s to some degree what you expect, but it’s also got much more than you would get with a Pacifico. It’s got body.
The interesting part about a lager is for how easy drinking it is, it’s not that easy to brew. Rather, it’s quite obvious when you make a brewing mistake in a lager, unlike other beers where the flavorful hops or coffee flavors in a breakfast stout may mask any mishap that happens in the process.
“People think because they are easy to drink they are easy to make but it’s kind of the opposite,” O’Conner said. “It is low alcohol, there’s no hops or dry hops. There are no dark grains. It’s harder without specialty malt, or a big hoppy beer, or adding a bunch of fruit. It’s one of those things where the process is simple, but you can’t hide what went wrong.”
Being simple as can be, what is it that goes into the beer in terms of ingredients? Oh, just a little bit of water, corn and malt. Yep, that’s really all it takes. No fancy stuff, but just a careful process of brewing a beer that is OG in terms of style and the taste. If you do it with quality products and some intensive care, it can turn out pretty awesome.
“The beer is brewed with American, domestic malt and corn - that’s traditional for Mexican beers,” he said. “It’s a simple recipe, you just have to be very careful during the process to not make any mistakes.”
O’Conner and I both agree on the main importance of a tasty lager: Drinkability. If you’re going for a lager, that is what you are looking for. This beer is so drinkable it’s insane.
“I love how crushable it is. You can still do something else after having some. You could have lunch with a couple beers. It’s so San Diego, it is perfect. It’s made for hot weather, Mexico, seafood, surfing and being active while enjoying beers. It is especially perfect as we approach this time of year,” O’Conner said.
A noteworthy mention regarding this beer is the fact that it will eventually be canned at the new Barrio Logan location for Thorn St. Brewery, which is slated to open in June or July if all goes according to plan. It will not be distributed outside of San Diego for upward of a year after that, O’Conner said. Just imagine, bringing this beer around with you to the beach, on the golf course and trips to Mexico. Yes, please.
This beer is currently available to try on tap at Thorn St. Brewery. Get it while it’s cold!
3176 Thorn St., North Park. thornstreetbrew.com