California Beer Part 01 - A Visit to The Rare Barrel

The last time I was in Oregon I stopped into a new brewery called The Commons. They had blown my socks off at GABF so I went in to talk with them about some potential projects. When I visited there was a group of people hanging out at the bar and we got to talking and it turned out they were behind a new brewery start-up in Berkeley, California called The Rare Barrel.

Since I spend a lot of time in the Bay Area, that's where my family is, and I used to be well-versed in Berkeley hangouts this was a really great surprise. I invited these folks to the Beers Made By Walking event which took place across town the next day and they showed up and we've continued to be in touch since then. Well, over the holidays I had a chance to catch up with The Rare Barrel and I was able to visit their space. I'd like to share with you a couple photos and some information about this must-watch brewery.

Meet Jay Goodwin, he's one of the masterminds behind The Rare Barrel, along with partners in crime Alex Wallash and Brad Goodwin who aren't pictured here. Jay was a brewer at the infamous Southern California The Bruery. He also worked in their sensory analysis program and soon became the head of barrel aging. Pretty quickly he realized that he had a dream to start his own experimental brewery, and he wanted to bring it to the Bay Area where he had previously lived. He, along with his partners, decided the Bay needed more sour beers so The Rare Barrel will focus solely on sour beers.

Here he sits in a massive industrial warehouse not too far from the University. The space is gigantic and as you'll see in another picture is already outfitted with 205 empty barrels that are waiting for beer. Every single one of them are 5 year old red wine barrels. This quantity might seem like a large amount but they look like a drop in a bucket in this space. So there will be plenty of room for more barrels and I would imagine a few years down the road they could easily be working with a few thousand oak barrels. There is already a space for a hefty sized tasting room as well.

This empty space will be an area for a couple 30bbl fermenters. The brewery doesn't plan to brew on premise but rather contract brew at a couple local breweries, carry the unfermented wort over on truck, and ferment in house. Then the beer will fill the barrels and a specialized fermentation program will begin. With that in mind, there's no telling exactly when the first beers will be released publicly as the barrels will decide this. However, the fermenters were scheduled to show up the week after I visited, which was before Christmas and the first beers will likely be brewed within a short amount of time. With this sort of fermentation capacity, space, quantity of barrels, and experience from the brewers, I imagine this brewery will prove to be a really exciting playground for sour beers, a nice place to understand how flavor develops in different barrels, a way to play with lots of different yeasts and bacteria, blending, and so much more. What a real treat for the Bay Area!

I must say that I'm very much looking forward to hearing more from these folks and I'm glad that I come back to the area a couple times a year. I'll continue to check in on them and report here. They mentioned they have sought advice from many folks in the industry, including Chad Yakobson, who they look up to. We've been following Chad for some time here on the blog and I'm equally as excited for this start-up as I was his.

Check out The Rare Barrel website here, on Facebook here and on Twitter too.

You'll see in a couple follow up posts some other bars and places I visited while in town. It's good to see my old stomping grounds growing a larger beer community.

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BeerEric Steen