I recently came upon Thrillist’s list of “The 12 Best New Breweries in America” and saw the Rare Barrel was on it. Being the ever curious epicure, I browsed through the online menu. Seeing sour beers — such as Tigerlily aged with ginger and hibiscus, and Entanglement with orange peels and vanilla beans — piqued my curiosity even more. I have never tried sour beer before, and with these interesting, unique flavors, it was a short trip that landed me at the Rare Barrel in West Berkeley.
The Rare Barrel specializes in sour beer, which is difficult to find because the turnaround time can range from months to years, whereas regular beer only takes a few weeks. The sour flavor that is caused by the same bacteria that makes yogurt sour is similar to lemonade, raspberries or red wine — all different types of sweetness with a sour note. The Rare Barrel focuses on making one type of beer in order to experiment with and produce the best sour beers and flavors. All the beer at this brewery is aged in oak barrels for six months to three years, either with or without other fruits and flowers, such as raspberries, hibiscus, strawberries and oranges.
Owners Jay Goodwin and Alex Wallash say many beer geeks enjoy their beers. According to them, beer geeks like to visit breweries, taste some beer while they’re there, chat with brewers and take some beer home to enjoy. The Rare Barrel also has slightly higher pricing, at $15 to $20 per 750 milliliter bottle. With the higher prices and more unique flavors, customers are not the usual beer drinkers. The flavors that the supposed “beer geeks” love include Kerfuffle, a Berliner Weisse aged in oak barrels with raspberries and strawberries, and Tigerlily, a golden sour beer aged in oak barrels with ginger and hibiscus. Guest beers from other breweries, such as Cellarmaker and the Bruery, are also available for those who dislike sour beers.
Being an adventurous foodie, I went for the Entanglement: a Berliner Weisse aged in oak barrels with orange peels and vanilla beans. After a few sips, I thought this was one of the best beers I’ve ever had and even liked it better than non-sour beers. The beer was subtly sour, and the orange peels and vanilla beans added slightly sweet and fruity flavors that were not overpowering. I could not distinguish the notes, but I could tell it added sweetness to the beer. The best part was the unique mixture of sour and sweet without identifiable individual tastes. The unique blend was smooth and produced a fruity and tart aftertaste.
The Rare Barrel runs in a 14,000-square-feet beer production facility, with a 1,380-square-feet sales area and 42 seats to go with it. The tasting room allows customers to enjoy their beers with a view of the oak barrels, and it includes comfy brown-leather couches, chairs and wooden tables, creating a communal and friendly environment. Tasting-room hours are Friday from 4 to 10 p.m., Saturday from 2 to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 12 to 6 p.m. — so take an afternoon and go check out the rare sour beer selection at the Rare Barrel. The strict barrel-selection process and blend of the best barrels make the trip well worth it.
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Contact Annie Chang at [email protected].