As we sit here and drink our 3,000,000th glass of sour beer (rough estimate), our conversation inevitably leads us to talk about the flavor profile, acidity, yeast and bacterial characteristics, and ingredients… you know… the kind of stuff everyone ponders about when they’re enjoying a sour beer, right?
Well, probably not. While we geek out over the sour beers we drink, we also realize that a lot of our friends still aren’t familiar with what sour beer actually is… yet. Let me take a moment and give you a quick rundown on sour beer:
…is a term used to encompass many different beer styles, some of which include lambic, gueuze, Flemish red, and Berliner Weisse. The first three styles mentioned are traditional to Belgium, while the last is traditional to Germany.
…has an extremely wide range of complex flavors. Some of the more common descriptors are sour, acidic, tart, dry, yoghurt-y, and fruity.
…is the oldest style of beer in the world. This wasn’t really by choice though. For thousands of years, beers were “accidentally” sour because humans didn’t even know that yeast and bacteria existed! If beer wasn’t consumed quickly enough, it would become sour.
…becomes “sour” from Lactobacillus and/or Pediococcus, which are both bacteria. “You’re putting WHAT in my beer???” someone might ask. Yup, bacteria! You may have already been introduced to these bacteria, if you enjoy yogurt, kefir, milk, cheese, miso, sauerkraut, or sourdough bread. Lactobacillus (Lacto) or Pediococcus (Pedio) are responsible for the flavors produced in these foods.
…usually ages in wood barrels. The wood creates a perfect environment for the souring microorganisms to grow and ferment over a long period of time.
…takes a long time to make. In general, sour beers will age in barrels for anywhere from 6-36 months before they are ready to be consumed. At least that’s how long our sour beers will age.
…is commonly fermented with fruits. Cherries and raspberries are among the most traditional fruits fermented with sour beer, but apricots, peaches, figs, blackberries, and strawberries also make for great ingredients in sour beers. Fruit was traditionally added to beer as a way to preserve the fruit, but now fruits are added because they just taste amazing in the sour beers!
…is commonly fermented with Brettanomyces (Brett), which is a kind of yeast that is most commonly known for its funky flavors that are found in saisons and farmhouse ales. Brett will add a small amount of acidity to a beer, but won’t add enough sourness to make a beer sour by itself.
…is a great beer for you to try if you enjoy wine. Some of characteristics they share are acidity, dryness, and fruit notes.
…can be spontaneously fermented, which means that the wort is exposed to the open air, which allows the natural yeast and bacteria in the air to fall into the wort, and ferment it into beer. By definition, lambics and gueuzes need to be spontaneously fermented.
…is usually blended. For example, a brewery might have 10 oak barrels with sour beer. Once the sour beers are ready to be consumed, the brewery will blend some (or all) of those barrels back together to create the final product. Each of those 10 barrels will be slightly different, so it is up to the blender to decide what barrels and proportions are blended to make the final product.
We originally were going to include an additional 39 descriptions of what sour beer is, but instead we decided to drink another sour beer and thought you would probably have more fun doing the same.
“Why all sour?” is a question we are commonly asked, and a question we love to answer. It basically boils down to our love of sour beer, not being able to get enough of it, and using the challenges of sour beer production to our advantage.
Firstly, sour beer is our favorite style of beer. Like many who are passionate about craft beer, we were first enamored by the citrusy, piney, and resiny flavors of hops, and the bready, toasty, and sweet flavors from malt. After countless dances with malt and hops, we were introduced to our first sour beer. Sour beer was different, intriguing, and new. While it may not have been love at first sight, there was something captivating about this style. Whether it was the pleasant tartness of a Berliner Weisse, the deep complexity of a Gueuze, or the refreshing raspberry notes of a Frambiose, we found unique flavors in sour beer that kept us coming back for more. Before we knew it, sour beer became our favorite style of beer. However, there was a problem: where could we find more sour beers?
As we tasted our way through the amazing sours that some of the German, Belgian, and American craft breweries made, we quickly realized that there weren’t as many options for sour beer as there were for other styles of beer. If we were in the mood for an IPA, we wouldn’t have just one choice, but a plethora of choices at a craft beer store or bar. But when it came to variety in sour beer, our options weren’t has plentiful. Many stores didn’t sell sour beer, and the ones that did would have only a couple of options . When it came to bars, we were ecstatic to find even one sour beer on draft. So why aren’t there more options when it comes to sour beer? From the production challenges to consumer tastes, breweries are usually inclined to experiment with sour beer on a small scale, if at all. With only a handful devoting a large chunk of their time to these styles, finding sour beer has become a difficult task for those who love it. We hope we can contribute to making this process of finding sour beer a little easier.
While most look at the challenges of sour production and decide against pursuing it, we’ll be embracing these challenges. Sour beer production has been studied less than other areas of brewing. By focusing completely on sour beer, we can concentrate on learning as much as possible about the reasons certain flavors are produced in sours, instead of worrying about keeping up with the constant needs of production of styles with shorter fermentation times. Through focus, we hope to gain a better understanding of the beer, and in return, reflect that understanding in the flavors of our beers. Another big concern that many breweries have when it comes to making sour beer is cross contamination. This occurs when the microorganisms used to make sour beer find their way into beers that brewers don’t want to be sour. We plan to reduce this concern by producing only sour beer. However, we will still take great care to ensure that our beers are made using the same techniques that other breweries use to prevent unwanted yeast and bacteria from affecting beers they aren’t intended to be in. With our entire focus on sours, we can also craft a cellar around the production of sour beer. In doing so, we will partner with local breweries by renting time on their brewhouse to brew our wort, then bring it back to our barrel house for fermentation, barrel aging, blending and packaging. This allows us to forgo building a brewhouse (…for now), which would only be used sparingly for these beers which take so long to age.
It’s been said that constraint breeds creativity. By adopting a singular focus on crafting sour beer, we plan on thoroughly exploring flavors through conventional sour beer production techniques, as well as a few more experimental techniques. We are ecstatic so share this journey with you. Follow our progress on this blog, as well as our Facebook and Twitter pages to learn more!
Brimming with excitement, we are pleased to announce the location of The Rare Barrel. Over the past couple of months, we have been quite busy examining warehouses and cities throughout the Bay Area. While it has been lengthy process, we have discovered the perfect location for The Rare Barrel: Berkeley, California.
While there are many reasons we decided to start The Rare Barrel in Berkeley, the one that trumped them all is the City’s climate. Berkeley remains relatively cool in the winter and summer months, which is great for aging sour beer. While some parts of the Bay Area may reach 90-100 F for extended periods of time in the summer, Berkeley maintains a relatively cool climate because of “The Slot.” The Slot is a term used to describe the path that cool ocean winds travel. These cool winds, which are strong in the summer, travel from the Golden Gate Bridge, directly through Berkeley, and over to the Central Valley. We have been electronically monitoring the internal temperature of our barrel warehouse all summer, and are very pleased with the data.
In addition to finding our new barrel house, we’ve also been busy obtaining our Building Permit. We look forward to starting construction very soon.
Thank you for waiting patiently while we are in this initial phase of The Rare Barrel. We cannot wait to share our sour beer with you!
A note from Jay:
Starting my brewing career at The Bruery was a dream come true. Even at six months old, The Bruery already had a reputation for using strange ingredients in strange styles. With Patrick Rue’s vision from his days of experimental homebrewing during his stint in law school and Tyler King’s like-minded passion for craft beer with professional expertise, The Bruery’s first employees had formed a powerful team. To join them was one of the luckiest moments of my life.
Now years later, The Bruery still has a reputation for pushing the envelop. However, now they have the accolades to back up these crazy ideas! Tyler has built a talented and passionate brewing team and Patrick has hand-picked brilliant minds to run the business. I couldn’t be more fortunate to have worked with such an amazing group of people. The Bruery took me in, treated me like family, and I’ll always be incredibly proud to say I worked there.
Today I give a heartfelt THANK YOU, from me to everyone at The Bruery. I would not be where I am today without you.
Jay Goodwin has been lucky enough to work with some incredibly talented people over his three and a half years at The Bruery. A small craft brewer in Orange County, The Bruery has consistently produced high quality beers that challenge both the consumer and their brewers.
In his time at The Bruery, Jay fell in love with the barrel-aged sours he produced such as Hottenroth Berliner Weisse, Oude Tart and Marron Acidife. The brewing team was lucky enough to win multiple medals for sour beer at both The Great American Beer Festival and The World Beer Cup.
He began to think how he could bring what he learned from brewing these styles back to where he and Alex (Co-founder) grew up: the San Francisco Bay Area. While collaborating with Alex, his college roommate who introduced him to home brewing, and Jay’s father, a lifelong entrepreneur, the team drafted a plan to start a sour beer company back home, in The Bay.
As Head of Barrel Aging at The Bruery, Jay started focusing on inoculation and management of the sour barrels. The brewers would send him wort and he had a whole warehouse full of barrels to play with. The idea was born there. Why not team up with breweries here at home in the Bay Area and start entire sour-only barrel warehouse to Northern California?
Since sour beers will take over 1 year to mature (a long time!), they are brewed less frequently due to limited fermentation space. Jay quickly realized that if they built their own brew house, it would collect probably a good amount of dust. Therefore, they decided to partner with host breweries in the Bay Area to produce our wort. While a host brewery will produce their wort, The Rare Barrel will manage fermentation, blending, packaging, and distribution. This model ultimately allows The Rare Barrel to maximize barrel aging capacity while supporting local craft breweries. It’s a win-win situation!
We can’t wait to get started! Since the sour beer production process takes longer than a typical ale or lager, we hope we can get started sooner rather than later. A few things that are very important to us include:
Focus - Since we are focusing on one type of product, sour beer, we believe we can concentrate on the specific challenges that these styles bring more than a brewery that splits time between non-sour and sour beer.
Community - We feel so honored and humbled that we have the opportunity to start a project like this. We’d love for homebrewers, craft beer connoisseurs, distributors, retailers and the beer media to get more involved in the production process with us!
Experimentation - Sour production can happen so many ways…we figure we will try them all! We will make a lot of this information available on our website so when you buy a bottle of our beer you will know everything about the blend, the barrels, the fermentation, the cellaring…everything!
Northern California is rich in brewing tradition and is home to some of the best breweries in the world. Hoping to add to this proud history, we are pleased to announce that we will be launching an all-sour, all-barrel aged beer company in the San Francisco Bay Area named The Rare Barrel.
We plan to brew our wort at local craft breweries, and we will be building our own barrel warehouse for fermentation, packaging and serving our beers to the public.
Our team is made up of people committed to producing the highest quality sour beer. Co-founders Jay Goodwin, former Brewer and Head of Barrel Aging at The Bruery in Orange County, Alex Wallash, homebrewer and Sales Representative in biotechnology, and Brad Goodwin, entrepreneur in the pharmaceutical industry, make up our crew of passionate craft beer lovers.
We hope to release more details of our plan over the next few months. We look forward to producing beer with experimental methods, a singular focus on quality sours, and a commitment to the craft beer community.
In the meantime, please feel free to contact us at info@TheRareBarrel.com with any questions or comments. Also, please visit our website at www.TheRareBarrel.com, Facebook, or Twitter to follow our progress.