Last month I visited Cameron Pryor, one of the founders of California Wild Ales. We met at the under-development all-wild brewery’s Sorrento Valley facility where I took photos of the nearly completed tasting room. At the time, it was scheduled to open in early August. When I checked back with Pryor last week, he informed me that his team had since decided to hold off on opening a tasting room until they find a new location. The new plan is to stay focused on production and reduce public access to their space to bottle pick-ups.
This is another way in which this operation—perhaps the most against-the-grain of San Diego County’s breweries currently in planning—defies convention. Other unconventional factors include the fact none of its founders have experience in the brewing industry, all of their beers will utilize wild yeast and microorganisms. Throw in no tasting room and you have a full-on anomaly for the local suds scene.
But with these oddities come some positives. Without a reliance on hops, one of the most expensive ingredients in beer-making, they don’t need to focus on securing contracts and save money. Being in Sorrento Valley, the rent is lower than other higher-profile communities. And not having employees, something that can be maintained now that there won’t be a tasting room, cuts down on overhead considerably. All of this, Pryor says, will allow him and his partners to keep prices for their beers moderate. This is important to them, as they are not fans of the expensive, $30 and $40-plus bottles of wild ales in the market.
California Wild Ales’ facility currently houses a growing stock of wine barrels as well as plastic totes filled with fruit (pineapple and guava when I visited) that gets punched down a la grapes in a winery setting. According to Pryor, this step increases fruit-to-beer infusion. He has also taken lessons from tours of Old World lambic breweries in Europe, and utilizes gravity in his production methods whenever possible.
Pryor and company utilize two 4.5% alcohol-by-volume base beers—one brewed with caramel malt, the other with a touch of rye malt—as the foundation for all of their beers. Early offerings include a dark sour with black raspberries and blueberries called Black Sour, and Salty Loquats, a gose brewed with English sea salt and its tart namesake fruit but devoid of traditional coriander. Pryor, a former chef, is experimenting with a variety of exotic salts and says they change both flavor and mouthfeel of his finished products.
California Wild Ales operates a members-only club called The Funky Bunch that provides priority access to beers in exchange for an annual fee. The company will also keg some of their beers with plans to sell them to local accounts before the end of the month.