The colors were bright and vibrant. Looking down the row of tasting glasses the hues ranged from tangerine oranges and blood reds to airy greens and dark violets. Not the typical appearance of beer in your average brewery. But this was no average brewery, and the glasses in front of me contained no typical beer.
Toolbox Brewing Company takes a different direction than many of the other breweries that call Southern California home. Toolbox exclusively brews sour ales. Priding itself on small batch brewing and fresh innovative flavors, if the San Diego metro area had a hidden gem, Toolbox was it.
Raising a bright red glass I immediately pursed my lips from the taste. The San Diego Style Gose was light bodied but the initial wheat beer taste was soon derailed by an explosion of sweet cherry flavor and salty key lime. Aptly named Cherry-Limeade it was tart, sour, and delicious.
Brandon, the man behind the tap eyed me up as I took another taste. With a tight knit beanie and cropped moustache he was friendly and talkative. I got the impression he enjoyed watching people get their first taste of Toolbox’s creations.
“It’s not for everybody.” Brandon said as he replenished a row of clean glasses behind the bar. “It can be too much for some people, but I tell everyone who comes in here to keep an open mind.”
I nodded in agreement, but my mind was open. I couldn’t wait to taste what was next. The Cucumberliner would soon be one of my favorites from Toolbox. A classic sour weisse ale brewed with cucumber and melon this light green colored beer was refreshing and light. A perfect beer to sip on your porch on a hot summer day.
“When we first released that one.” Brandon said, gesturing at my glass. “I spent what felt like days peeling cucumbers.”
All of Toolbox’s ingredients are brought in fresh and local. Each fruit and veggie is washed, peeled, and pureed. This combined with aging each batch in white wine barrels on site gives every glass of the brewery’s beer its sweet lip puckering taste.
The beauty in Toolbox was its small scale operation. Looking around the small brewery I gazed upwards at a wall of barrels. Happily aging future batches of sour concoctions. Overhead naked lightbulbs hung down between a maze of iron pipes. A few scattered tables dotted the taproom floor but everyone crowded up towards the bar where the action was. A spiderweb of light bulbs illuminated the bar area and overhead the acoustic twang of the Lumineers played over speakers. The dim lighting and small space really made me feel like I had stumbled upon California’s craft beer’s best kept secret.
No other beer on Toolbox’s lineup best highlighted the passion and creativity poured into each batch like their seasonal ale, Poinsettia. Barrel aged in French oak wine barrels for 10 months with Maraschino cherries, pineapple, orange peel, roasted pecans, treacle, and maple syrup. To top it all off the contents are sprinkled with spiced rum soaked oak chips.
Brandon was kind enough to pull down from the shelf for me one of the new releases take home bottles. Even the wax capping off each bottle was meticulously applied and rolled in vanilla giving the whole presentation a wonderful holiday aroma. Poinsettia is truly a labor of love, this fact shining through in everything from the brewing to the taste to the bottling and packaging.
Toolbox Brewing Company is a welcome break from the craft brew norms. It is a courageous thing for the Toolbox team to solely travel down the sour ale road but in the end the pay off is huge. Recipes that echo the brewery’s vision and creativity are apparent in their use of every fruit and vegetable under the sun. Looking at the menu and seeing beers brewed with apricots, limes, cherries and cucumbers, boysenberries, cranberries, and peaches it was hard to choose where to start.
If you’ve never ventured into the realm of tart beer, or if sour ales have never been your thing Toolbox gives you all the reason to give this niche of brews a chance. Nestled in Vista, California among sweetened wine barrels and fresh peeled fruit you have all the tools you need.