Where the f@&$ is this place?! The search was intensified by my impending urinations. Finally, we found a building with windows that allowed you to peer into what could only be described as a brewery. The door, locked. Panic rushes over me and my bladder tightens as we realize, it’s the back door! With what was probably viewed as an erratic scurry I made my way around the block leaving my fellowship behind in order to burst through the doors of what was honestly one of the most anticipated brewery destinations to date. After what was probably in the top 10 of all time trips to the bathroom, I was able to bask in the wonderful openness of the very special, The Rare Barrel brewery.
Not much to it honestly. A bar shaped structure at the heart of the tap room serves as the stage that adoring fans rush to in order to hear their favorite bands play. The seating is made up of simple stools and epic tables at chest height reaching as far as the liver can drink, and even farther. Like most of these warehouse brewery/taprooms the scenery is not just about your beers in front of you or the beautiful company you’re with, but the behind the scenes experience of actually witnessing your beer become what it was meant to be. By far the most awe inspiring aspect of this breweries aesthetic was the walls of barrels that housed their sour magic. I swear it was stories high and canyons deep, barrels upon barrels of the rarest of the rare. So how about that flight?
The majesty of this flight is truly something to behold. Each sample pour would serve as a full pour anywhere else. Now multiply that by six and massage your jawline for a serious workout. Starting with Apropos of Nothing, this tart bit of heaven we were told was soon to be extinct. With sour beers, every batch is unique, so recreating the same infections that manipulate these brews into their sweet spot is damn near impossible. So we enjoyed this one. The color I would call a deep maroon with just enough sweetness to distract from the exquisite pain. Full bodied and crisp to the last, the fact that it’s time was coming to an end made this one a little more special I think. 8.5/10 on the UrD scale.
Then there was No Salt. Light colored and frighteningly as aromatic as your favorite tequila with a citrus twist. As this one is aged in tequila barrels it takes on the best characteristics of them and marries with the Brett and lacto beautifully. The drawback is that if you’ve had an experience or two that have been less than favorable in the past with tequila (and let’s face it, who hasn’t?) then you might get that familiar turn and twist in your stomach. The flavors are intense and will fool your palate. Like good tequila no salt is needed to enjoy No Salt. It’s citrusy, tequila-y, sour taste profile is probably the funnest out of their lineup. It just reminds you of good times with family, and tequila. 8/10 on the UrD scale.
On to Dubious Nights. This one is a dark sour aged in tequila barrels, but unlike No Salt the characteristics from the barrels are not as impactful and I feel like the malts play a more prominent role in the palate. Honestly that is the expectation with a dark sour, like Jolly Pumpkin’s Madrugada Obscura the sour notes are more of a refinement of the taste profile rather than a dominating force. Probably the most drinkable out of the flight as far as sheer volume. 7.5/10 on the UrD scale.
Now with this next one, Forces Unseen (Batch 5), they blended three different golden sour beers in oak barrels. I felt like this one might have been an ambitious experiment that yielded a refreshing beverage, but could only be manipulated so far. Or maybe since we are four sour beers in, my palate is destroyed. Regardless, my acclimated taste center is enjoying the zesty crispness just fine. The effort, present. The wow factor, deluded. And now I find myself more than ready for the next one. 7/10 UrD.
Other than Apropos of Nothing, this next one has a great name that fits the visual aesthetic of the beer perfectly. The beautiful, Lemon Lily. At first glance, I am pretty sure my eyes twitched as if I was already tasting the beer with sight. Its a lovely shade of sour red and pink, like it was picked from the garden and squeezed into your glass. But enough about the visual, the other sense, the one we do this for, its time to put it in my mouth and see what exhales. And there is where I finally pucker and curse. I can’t explain how this one is the most sour yet is not distracting from the supporting cast of ginger, hibiscus, and lemon peel. I can’t explain that without any justifiable expectations coming in this beer managed to shatter my expectations. And I don’t know how to say that I drank more than my share of the taster, and that I’m not sorry. I wish I knew what to say, but I can’t figure out how say that this one was my favorite, and if I had it to do over again I would’ve took it for a walk. High praise, 9/10 on the UrD scale.
Finally, the Sourtooth Tiger (Blend 3). Another golden sour, only this one was shot through a “ginger torpedo”. I don’t know what that means but it sounds painful. Ginger being a typically powerful flavor did the impossible and subdued the sour. It didn’t diminish the sourness of the tiger completely but more like cloaked it in a layer of complexity. Sounds fancy, does it not? The ginger is there, the sour is there, the smile and strain of the jaw, there. Now get me a glass of water and a nap. 8/10 on the UrD.
The mad scientists at The Rare Barrel in Berkeley are doing it right. Yes, they do nothing but sour beers, but their manipulation and coercion of flavors are doing something far more important than a singular beer style. They are creating experiences. They are creating art. Each batch is unique and with it gives you a different perception on what is possible when beer geeks show their heart. Thats what I took away from my trip to this barrel house, I felt a bit of that heart…