The rare barrel – blog

Due to a number of circumstances, there were some mild limitations on the varietals available to us. Our intent for a red wine hybrid was to truly showcase the fruit, which led us to lean toward the fruitier, jammier, richer varietals such as Pinot Noir, Syrah, Merlot, and Zinfandel. As for a white varietal, we specifically had our eyes set on Chardonnay. We have some phenomenal oak forward Chardonnay barrel aged beers in the cellar and we were looking to compound upon this character with the addition of grapes. Unfortunately, we were unable to source any fresh white wine grapes as we had started the search too late into the harvest season. We were also barred from tapping into our immediate neighbors to the north in Napa and Sonoma due to a series of devastating wildfires.


Much of the remaining crop was either affected by smoke taint or destroyed outright, which resulted in a number of particular varietals becoming unobtainable. Fortunately, there are a number of other beautiful grape growing regions in Northern California which allowed us to follow through with the idea of using a local grape source. We eventually made contact with a vineyard in Amador County who was able to supply us with nearly one ton of incredible late season Merlot and Petite Sirah.

Whole cluster fruiting was by far and away the most unique fruiting method we have attempted. Before we crushed/destemmed the bulk of our stock we set aside about 500 lbs. of whole grape clusters. We took a page from a more traditional method of wine fermentation and added whole clusters of the fruit (stem and all) to the beer. The thought process behind this method of addition was to allow the fruit to undergo a semi-carbonic maceration fermentation method. The theory we had for this fermentation method was that each individual grape would undergo its own internal fermentation, and as CO2 was built up, the fruit would burst and release its contents into the main body of the beer. This would allow for a steady flow of fermentables to work their way into the beer as it aged in the barrel, as opposed to the immediate flood of sugar introduced in a more standard fruiting method. This fruiting method seems to have created a more complex final product. Not only was there a noticeable flavor contribution from the stems, but the slower pace of fermentation seems to have helped promote the retention of some more delicate aromatic profiles.

After fruit processing, we had to decide the types of beer we would ferment the fruit in. Again, to obtain a better understanding of the interaction between our beer and wine grapes, we chose a number of different bases to fruit. The first two base blends we settled on were a more standard approach to fruited beer. We utilized an aged blend (the typical approach we would apply to any other fruit refermentation) as well as a fresh/young mixed culture beer. As we were expecting a significant drop in pH and a corresponding increase in acidity, we tried to fruit blends that were less acidic than our typical bases. The acidity of the aged blend in particular was something we tried our best to keep in check, as an aggressive acid profile could end up masking the more delicate characteristics of the fruit. To our surprise, the resulting products picked up relatively little acidity even though an incredible amount of readily fermentable fruit sugar had been added. Both the aged and young blends ended up showcasing a pronounced fruit profile while maintaining the expressive, yeast forward foundation set forth by the base beers.

Another unique fermentation process we experimented with was open fermentation. We removed the heads from a number of our oak barrels, added the fruit, and racked beer on top. There are obvious risks involved with this practice as the beer is exposed directly to the open air, which could quickly lead to the development of undesirable off flavors. The pay-off would be a potentially more expressive and unique final product. We punched down the fruit twice a day for the first week and once a day for the second week. To mitigate the surface’s constant exposure to oxygen, we employed another strategy from the wine world and laid a small layer of dry ice on the fruit’s surface. This was done in hopes of creating a thin blanket of CO2 after the majority of the initial fermentation had ceased. Seemingly the layer of CO2 curbed the growth of acetobacter and yielded a fairly clear expression of yeast and fruit. Ultimately, the open fermentation has resulted in a beer that has expressive yeast character while retaining the grape’s intrinsic wine elements. Though it was one of the more involved methods, this beer actually reached stability before the others and was the first to be released.

Long story long… our namesake, The Rare Barrel, and The Search for The Rare Barrel, is inspired by the epic story of pH1. pH1 is an oak barrel, and she was crafted in France from French oak in 1990. After a few years of housing wine, she found her way to New Belgium Brewing, where she was part of their original sour beer program. With Lauren Salazar as pH1’s shepherd at New Belgium, pH1 helped define the process and flavor profile of La Folie, an amazing and pioneering sour brown ale. Around 2003, pH1 disappeared (or was secretly gifted, depending who you ask) to Vinnie Cilurzo at Russian River Brewing Company. While at Russian River, pH1 contributed to the first batches of Beatification, their spontaneously fermented beer, and spent the following 11 years contributing to their exceptional sours. When we heard this story about the travels of pH1 and her impact on these breweries, we were inspired by an idea… the idea that there is one barrel that stands out from the rest. There’s a rare barrel that houses an amazing, and possibly perfect, blend of yeast and bacteria. We named ourselves The Rare Barrel because of pH1. Shortly after our first Search for The Rare Barrel, Barrel pH1 mysteriously showed up at our back door. No joke! We received an unexpected delivery at the back door of our warehouse and when the truck rolled up its door, Barrel pH1 sat there alone, waiting to call The Rare Barrel her next home. We were lucky enough to shepherd her for the next year and bottled a single barrel of her beer. She now has traveled on to her next journey, back with old friend Peter Bouckaert, one of her original shepherds at New Belgium Brewing and now at his own brewery Purpose Brewing. We are looking forward to continuing to follow her story while we continue to search for our very own rare barrel.

So, what can you expect from our new kitchen? We’re a from-scratch kitchen, making almost everything in house. We want to focus on crafting flavor profiles and serving the best dishes possible from locally sourced, seasonal produce and seafood. And why are we only using locally sourced, seasonal produce and seafood? Because it’s a fresher product, environmentally responsible, supports the local community, and we think it will show in our dishes and create amazing flavors. That means our menu is also going to change as the seasons do, which will keep things exciting for you and fuels Chef’s creativity. Our menu will also showcase charcuterie boards and cheese boards, which we love because the acidity in sour beer cuts through the fats in the meats so well. We also love that boards can be a communal experience and can be a great adventure of unlimited flavor combinations. With a few options to share and a few entres, you’ll be set to come in and enjoy our menu for dinner or snacks. We’re also using our sour beers as an ingredient in our food… because it tastes really good and is a unique ingredient that we have the opportunity to cook with. How does pork belly braised in our dark sour beer sound?

To test different mediums and processes I created an experiment where I took the dry yeast and hydrated it with a sugar solution. A few different types of low sugar content solutions were tested in this experiment including wort and varying sugar water concentrations. After adding the same amount of yeast to every sugar solution I allowed 2 days for some growth and fermentation. I then added a 50:50 solution of more low sugar solution and sour beer and waited another 2 days. I then tested cell viability and density as will as pH and gravity changes. I concluded that a 2 degree Plato water and dextrose with nutrient added yielded the healthiest yeast at the end of the beer tempering. The slurry was then added to a small bottling run. I also compared this experimental slurry to a control of just day-of rehydrated dry yeast which was our current method of yeast preparation. I concluded that the tempering increased yeast health and decreased conditioning time (tested by yeast viability and pH/gravity changes).