Brewery Name: The Rare Barrel
Type of Brewery: Retail Brewery
Location: Berkeley, California
Facebook: The Rare Barrel
Background: Shortly after I moved to San Francisco, the annual San Francisco Beer Week kicked off with a full blown beer fest on one of the bay piers. The main attraction was a Rare Barrel release for which hundreds of attendees were willing to sacrifice their tastes of dozens of other beers to wait in line for. Since then, The Rare Barrel has been on my radar but somehow eluded my travels until recently. Finally, I made it to their taproom...leaving wound up being much more difficult.
Growlers: Nope. You may buy bottles or full/half pours at the tap room. That's it. Their terms, their sizes, and totally understandable based on how much work goes into their brews.
The Beers: Good lord, where do I start. I suppose the main thing to bring up first is that The Rare Barrel brews exclusively sour beers. They barrel age everything and pack an incredible amount of complexity into each. For sour lovers, this place is the absolute pinnacle. For those who don’t care for the flavor, I challenge you to leave here without an exception to that view. I split my tasting into two sections, first trying the light colored beers, and then the darker ones. All are classified as sour/wild/or some other synonym:
Vibe: The Rare Barrel stuck to what I’d call the typical San Francisco venue style with a warehouse-style space. It's tucked in at the end of a big parking lot between buildings and has the concrete floor, high ceiling, and simple sleek bar I love in a brewery tap room.
They do a ton of collaborations with other breweries and use barrels from a huge assortment of other partners. The tasting room does a great job of displaying how many different things they’ve got going on by offering logos of their partners on the barrel heads, including Cellarmaker and New Belgium:
It’s a bit of an adjustment to come here after other more "normal" places in terms of the crowd. I attribute this to two factors, the first that being a sour-forward brewery (they do have a few guest taps that aren’t sour, but all of their beer is) assuredly removes a few people here and there from their potential market. Second is that this beer, because of the lengthy and complex brewing process, is quite pricey. All said and done, the tranquil vibe is a bit more reminiscent of a winery than a brewery in my mind, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that so long as you’re open to the experience.
They don’t offer flights or tastings, though they will give you a half pour. You can sit at the bar, hang in one of the lounge sections, or use the standing high-tops build from their old barrels. The highlight of the vibe of The Rare Barrel is being surrounded, almost dauntingly so, by the barrels. They seem to keep going forever, almost similar to when you have two mirrors across from one another.
Dogs: Berkeley is a pretty laid back spot, but this didn’t seem like a place for dogs. There were none when I was there and I’d guess it's not something they’d like, but I didn’t see anything posted to know for sure.
Price ($ to $$$$$): $$$$$ - This is about as pricey as I’ve seen beer. Tasting room prices are not too much higher than most, as you can get a 10 oz pour for between 7 and 9 dollars a glass. If you want anything to go, bottles are mostly between 20 and 30 dollars each. Not a cheap date, but again, this is no standard beer experience.
Food: Grilled cheese. Take it or leave it. I suppose if you’re only going to have just one food option, this may be the best move.
Final Thoughts: This is a wish list brewery, a white whale, a main priority, whatever you want to call it. This is an entirely unique beer experience that anyone who likes sours, barrel aged brews, or just impressive beers at their base needs to take part it.
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