City approves sour-beer brewery for ‘beer geeks’

The Rare Barrel has documented its efforts on its Facebook page. Click the photo to see more images.

The Rare Barrel has documented its development on Facebook. Click the photo for more images. Photo: The Rare Barrel

A new West Berkeley craft brewery, with a focus on ‘sour beer,’ was approved last week by a city zoning panel.

Business reps for The Rare Barrel, at 937 Carleton St., said they’ve already “started brewing and barrel aging,” and expect their first sour beers to be ready towards the end of the year. (The public entrance to the facility, which is not yet open, will be located at 932 Parker St.) The 14,000 square-foot beer production facility will offer beer and food on site — with 42 seats in a 1,380-square-foot sales area — as well as beer for sale to-go.

According to The Rare Barrel’s application to the city, sour beer goes through a different aging process than traditional beer. It’s produced in smaller volumes and, rather than a three-day fermentation process in a large tank, it’s left for a week in a smaller tank, then aged for a year in oak wine barrels.

Photo: The Rare Barrel

Jay Goodwin (left, director of blending and brewing) and Alex Wallash (right, director of sales and marketing) transfer yeast from an oak barrel. Photo: The Rare Barrel

“Our most fervent customers refer to themselves as ‘beer geeks’,” the owners told the city. “Beer geeks like to visit breweries, purchase the beer on tap for on-premises consumption and enjoyment, talk to the brewers and purchase packaged containers to take home.… These customers often become advocates of the brands they like, sharing their enthusiasm with friends. Due to the premium pricing and obscure flavors of sour beer, our customers are not your typical tavern beer drinker.”

The brewers will contract with several existing breweries to produce wort, an early stage of the beer, in kettles off-site so as to avoid “‘bakery’ type odors associated with brewing.”

The Rare Barrel’s products will be available for sale on site as well as online; a typical 750ml bottle will cost $15-$20. Retail hours are scheduled to run Wednesdays through Saturdays from 4-10 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 6 p.m.

Owners say food served on site will be sourced locally when possible, from places like Acme Bread Company and The Cheese Board. They’d also like to partner with businesses such as Juan’s Place (next door to The Rare Barrel) and Westside Café to deliver food to the tasting rooms that’s ordered by Rare Barrel customers. They also note the development of nearby commercial kitchens that might be willing to partner with them.

Proposed floor plan at The Rare Barrel. Carleton runs along the south side and the entrance, from Parker, is along the north. Image: City of Berkeley

Proposed floor plan at The Rare Barrel. Carleton runs along the south side and the entrance, from Parker, is along the north. (Click to view larger.) Image: City of Berkeley

Owners say the business is consistent with the goals of the West Berkeley General Plan, to increase economic activity in the area, and increase neighborhood-serving retail in the area.

“We will be a gathering place for artisanal brewers, home brewers, beer enthusiasts and food lovers in general,” they write. “We will bring to Berkeley well-paying jobs both in the brewery and the retail area that do not require an advanced degree.”

Owners submitted the application to the city in November. As of last week’s staff report, the city said it had received no communications about the project from neighbors. No one showed up to speak against it at Wednesday night’s meeting before the Zoning Adjustments Board, so the board approved the project during its consent calendar.

The Rare Barrel has an active online presence for those who’d like to watch its progress. See its blog, Twitter feed and Facebook page.

New beer garden, burger spot for south Berkeley [03.15.13]

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  • Guest

    This is fantastic news, and a great ‘get’ for Berkeley. The head brewer has a great pedigree (coming from The Bruery). Sours take some getting used to, but they are a fantastic and creative side of brewing and are starting to see a major renaissance.

  • Chris

    Soooo excited for this! I love the sour Belgians, and to have them made by such awesome brewers??? We are very lucky indeed. Great addition to the other tasting experiences in W Berkeley – Donkey & Goat, Urbano, Broc, etc.

  • curiousjorge

    seriously – whether you’re a beer geek or not, bringing in such a unique business with street-facing retail/dining is great for Berkeley.

  • dirty hippy

    now that’s odd, no one showed up to protest, my how far berkeley has fallen

  • Chris J

    No one protested? Don’t they realize how many yeast are killed in the beer-making process? Has no one ever heard a yeast cell scream?