<NOTE: This location was shuttered in spring 2019.>
I don’t mean to quibble, but shouldn’t the name be “Barrel Harbor @ At Ease”? After all, “At Ease” is the game store into which Barrel Harbor has put a satellite tasting room. (Barrel Harbor beers are made at their primary location in Vista.) Well, either way, it is a great spot. In fact, of the dozens of breweries and tap rooms my girlfriend has visited because of me (thanks for indulging me, Sarah!), this is her very favorite of them all.
It is a very large space; the bar is huge, and there are lots of four-top and larger tables set up all around. Towards the back, a set of stairs leads up to a second-story room in which there are several large tables set up. It did my heart good to see scores of people on the main floor and upstairs playing all kinds of board games and role playing games. If I had known when I was in high school that there could be a place (besides my friend Brent’s basement) to drink beer AND play Dungeons and Dragons, I would have been ecstatic. Out back they have food trucks on rotation, and there are theme nights like Wednesday night trivia. Naturally, they have a table full of games to try out, too.
Perhaps the very best thing about the place was seeing so many people of all different backgrounds and ages enjoying talking together and playing games. Really, it was amazingly diverse in every respect. It was just a happy place, and you could feel that the IQ of the room was well above that of the average bar.
By the way, this might be the best strip mall in America. On one side, we bought a great new dining table at Scandinavian Designs. Then we went across to the other side and had the best Indian meal we’ve found in San Diego at Royal Indian. And then we went to At Ease @Barrel Harbor. It was quite an evening.
My flight of beers (let’s not forget the reason we were there!) was good. I tried four of the 14 that were on the board; the paper menu listed a few others they were out of. It is a well-rounded list.
I started with a Fenris IPA (7.3% ABV), which was crystal clear, light gold with a white head, smooth and full on the palate, with floral/fruity hops. It was very drinkable: I gave it a 4/5. They use an English yeast which seems to make a difference. Next, I tried the Red Ale (5.2% ABV), which had coffee and toffee notes in the deep roasted malt flavors, yet it was still light brown/red in color with a small beige head. I thought it was smooth and delicious, and rated it 3.5/5. Brown ales are normally among my favorites, but I thought this Brown Ale (5% ABV) was just okay. It seemed a little thin, and too light on the malt to be the kind of brown I like. Maybe it is just me, but the flavor profile reminded me of a weak-tasting Black Butte Porter; I gave it a 3/5. I thought the Black IPA (7.6% ABV) was well made, but I disagree with the recipe. The hops themselves are great but they don’t suit a black IPA (or, my expectation for a black IPA, at least). The floral/sweet notes clash with the roast malts. I rated it 2.75/5.
Overall, we were impressed with the location, the concept, the crowd, the service and the beer. We will be back to play some games. You should check it out!
http://barrelharborbrewing.com/ 8990 Miramar Road, Suite 150 San Diego, CA 92126