The Rare Barrel

My previous Bay Area trip in December 2013 was about two weeks before The Rare Barrel opened. A bit of a bummer, but I figured it would encourage me to visit again sooner rather than later. Took a little over a year, but I finally made it. Marcus picked me up at the Macarthur BART station, and we went straight to the barrel house (they don’t have their own brewhouse, but they do have fermenters and lots and lots of barrels) to ensure we got seats before the crowds descended. After some decent grilled cheese from their little kitchen, we methodically went through everything of theirs on tap. They only make sour beer, but they have some non-sour guest taps, as well.

only sour beer at The Rare Barrel

Two sours at The Rare Barrel — Berkeley, CA

    Rob’s Picks

  • Apropos of Nothing – 5.6% – Dark sour with great mix of elderberry and lavender. Berry is more prominent; lavender is more subtle. Some oakiness as it warms, as well as some vinegar and soy sauce aroma.
  • Wise Guise – 5.4% – Dark sour with raspberries. Raspberry aroma and flavor. Touch of vinegar.
  • Arrows of Neon – 4.5% – “Berkliner” Weisse. With lemon and lime peels. Nice lemon/lime flavors. Fairly sour, with very subtle breadiness and hint of eggy aroma.
  • Soliloquy – 5.1% – Golden sour with rose hips and orange peels. Flavors are subtle but enough to make you think while drinking. Orange comes out more in the finish.
  • Shadows of their Eyes – 6% – Dark sour. Caramel and graham cracker malt mix with touch of vinegar and soy sauce.
  • Egregious – 5.3% – Dry hopped golden sour. Floral and sour aroma and flavor. Floral and citrus hop flavors nicely punched up by the sourness. More floral than citrus.
  • Sourtooth Tiger – 5.2% – Golden sour with ginger. Sour and ginger aroma. Ginger flavor not so strong but adds a fun spicy edge to the sourness.
  • Forces Unseen – 5.5% – Batch 2. Blend of three golden sours with brett and other critters. Citrus mix and beautiful sourness; there’s a certain pureness to this. Wonderful.
    The Rest

  • Across the Sea – 4.5% – Gose with coriander. Just at my salt threshold. Hard to taste the coriander. Okay, but not great.

No logo glassware, but maybe they’ll fix that by the time I visit again. The once-a-year trip cycle seems to work pretty well – gonna have to start planning the next one fairly soon, I suppose.

Cascade Brewing

The Portland brewery tour train rolled on down the line from the Green Dragon to the Cascade Brewing Barrel House. The core group in the tour had been to Cascade’s brewpub, the Raccoon Lodge, on a previous trip, but fortunately they decided to include the Barrel House even though they don’t do any brewing on premises. It does house the aging barrels, and that’s good enough for me. Plus, it was on the way to the next stop. We also sat down at two separate tables here, but I somehow felt more rushed than at the Green Dragon. Oh well.

    Rob’s Picks

  • Blueberry Bourbonic – 11% – Smooth sour blueberry flavor, with bourbon finish. Somewhat heavy. Nice!
  • Rhubarb Crisp – 6.5% – Sour start, with a rhubarb blast finish that lingers.
  • Plum Rye – 7.35% – Plum aroma, flavor on finish. Very sour start. Nice broad base.
  • Shrieking Violet Blueberry – 11% – Lighter and crisper than the Blueberry Bourbonic, and really nice.
  • Kriek – Really good. Very very sour, and somewhat subtle cherry flavor.
  • Nouveau Cerise – 8.18% – Really nice and sour. Cherry “darker” than the Kriek — more complex.
    The Rest

  • Noyaux – 8.94% – A raspberry sour. Subtle start, raspberry comes through in the finish.
  • 2010 Sang Noir – 9.2% – Like a really sour sparkling wine. Very raisiny.
  • Raspberry Wheat – 5.7% – The one non-sour beer that was ordered. Basically a bubbly raspberry drink. Meh.
  • Sweetart – 8.25% – Sour and good, but nothing about it stood apart from the other sours.
  • Blueberry – Also sour and good, but after the other two blueberry drinks, this one felt and a little too light and easy.

I forgot to take a picture here, which is unfortunate because their colorful beers would have made for some great photos.


The day after Thanksgiving 2011 was cold and sunny, which was much better than cold and rainy, and so Jonny and I hopped on our bikes to check out two new bike paths, the Mountains-to-Sound extension on Beacon Hill and the officially opened Ship Canal Trail. Towards the end of the ride, I felt a little odd about not visiting a brewery (interesting Pavlovian effect, I suppose), and so we circled around town some more until we were back in the SODO neighborhood and locking up our bikes outside the EPIC Ales brewery. EPIC is an acronym for “Every Possibility Is Conceivable,” and they make “strange and wonderful brews.”

Update! March 16, 2012: Dropped in again for one of their Saturday beer brunches, after I saw a picture they posted to facebook of bagels they were making in-house from their own spent grain. I had one of those stuffed with their own sockeye salmon lox and fennel salad. It was so friggin’ good that I wanted seconds. Also tried two more of their beers.

Mega Update! January 10, 2015: A lot has changed at EPIC Ales since my previous update. They moved their brewing equipment into the basement of their building, expanded and re-modeled the main space, added a kitchen, and called it Gastropod. So they have sort of become a two-headed monster, so to speak, with EPIC Ales below and Gastropod above. I’ve been by a bunch of times, and the food has always been awesome. I’ve heard rumors that they’re going to open a second Gastropod elsewhere in town but forgot to ask when I was there earlier this week. Oh, and I have something like 30 more of their beers to add, as well as a new picture.

mini EPICs

6oz mini-schooners of EPIC Ales at Gastropod — Seattle, WA

    Rob’s Picks

  • Chocolate Oranges – 7% – Belgian dark ale with orange blossoms. Chocolate/coffee and light brown sugar with bright orange citrus edge.
  • Of the Earth (2014) – 6.9% – Matsutake saison. Sweet citrus-edged bubblegum start with underlying earthiness to citrus/earthy finish. Weird, right? But pretty good.
  • Old Warehouse (2014) – 5% – Blend: 25% 2.5 years old, 25% 1.5 years old, 50% 9 months old. Sour aroma. Nice level of sourness with some fruitiness. Light and tart. Hint of oxidation, but not bad (although it makes me worried about my bottle of Old Warehouse Batch #1 – guess I’ll just have to open it one of these days and find out how it is).
  • Oceanic Funk – 6.3% – A sour with smoked malt, konbu seaweed, and squid ink. Light amber color, surprisingly. Light, bright, and sour. Finishes with light lingering savory flavors and light smoke. Bit of earthy funk edge and some brininess. A very interesting beer. I liked it, but the 6oz pour was probably the right amount.
  • Flemish Plums – 7% – Plum sour aged with oak. Great balance of sweet and sour, with balsamic and lingering plum flavor. Underlying dark malty sweetness, and a touch of oaky vanilla. Awesome. In a blind taste test I would’ve guessed it was Duchesse de Bourgogne.
  • Sour Flowers – 4.4% – Light sour funk aroma. Bit of sour start with good citrus flavor from orange blossoms. Hint of lemon, too. Tartness mellows out, and you get more of the wheat. Pretty easy drinking sour.
  • Oaked Harvest – 5.2% – Oak-aged kabocha squash porter. Smooth and creamy with lots of fun flavors – coffee/chocolate, vanilla, light squash.
  • Trois – 8.3% – Fruity aroma and flavor. Very light banana/clove, some orange, and fairly sweet but with a balancing undercurrent of bitter citrus. Hint of funk.
  • Getting Dark – 6.3% – Dark ale. Tart start with a lot of carbonation. Some coffee, some rye spiciness, to light cardamom on the finish. Complex and interesting. From a bottle I picked up when it got marked down after sitting on a shelf in QFC for four months or so. I think the tartness developed over time – a definite plus, IMHO.
  • Slow Southern Steel – 6.5% – Made with smoked serrano peppers and bottle conditioned. Lots of carbonation when I finally opened it. Spicy, lightly funky aroma. Big sour start, then the spiciness comes in. Light funk as well as smokiness on the finish. Bottle #182/300.
  • Gnarly Goat – 11.5% – Bock aged in Tatoosh bourbon barrel. Bourbon aroma. Good amount of bourbon flavor, but not overpowering, going to malty nutty finish with a bit of an alcohol edge.
  • Peach-Bot 5000 – 6.5% – Peach saison. Nice light peach flavor, not too sweet, balanced well with some bitterness and light funk.
  • Ominous Nebula – 3.1% – Smoky cardamom aroma. Light amber color. Smoky, with light sugary sweetness and light cardamom. Quite light on the tongue. Light herbal hops. Very drinkable.
  • Happoshu – 5.5% – Rice-based, gluten-free saison. Cool sharp aroma. Very good balance of flavors – sweetness, coriander, alcohol, light funk. Some bitterness in the finish.
  • Springy Beer – 5% – Bready/oaty malt flavors with a touch of lemon. Light, with just enough body. Somewhat grassy finish with a bitter twist.
  • Glacier – 5.6% – Banana aroma. Banana flavor then honey sweetness, bit of clean spruce/forest, and nice bitterness. Good balance.
  • Northwest Partytime!!! – 5% – Dry-hopped sour with agave. Floral aroma. Then you take a sip, and it’s a surprisingly strong sour. Crisp and sweet, too, with some floral hop flavor on the finish. Sour all the way through.
  • Cherry Smoke Bomb – 6.4% – Very good cherry, smoke, and vanilla flavor mix. Dry, with a nice sour edge. Nothing too strong in any of these aspects – great balance.
  • Silly Goat – 9% – Sharp alcohol and malt aroma. Crisp, sweet, caramel, biscuit, with an alcohol edge. Rye finish. Lots going on but it works.
  • SAD Winter Brown – 5% – Brown ale made with lager yeast. Light and nutty, with some chocolate/coffee notes. Crisp and very drinkable. Makes me happy.
  • Anniversary Partytime!!! – 7.5% – Berlinerweisse with turmeric and kobucha. Slight banana/clove aroma and flavor. Crisp with a bit of tartness. Good rye flavor and light maltiness. Very even.
  • Solar Trans-Amplifier – 6.5% – Wit with chamomile, ginger, and rice. Interesting. Chamomile flavor with rye undertones. Fairly dry and smooth. Ginger is subtle but comes out as it warms.
  • Late Night Partytime!!! – Chocolate/coffee aroma. Very sour. Dark chocolate/coffee flavors with a bit of fig. Nutty finish.
  • Chocolate Chili Sour – Chocolate from Theo, of course, and dried chipotles. Apparently there was a chocolate beer fest recently that I missed. Anyway, good sour aroma. Good sour start. Chocolate and chili flavors not really evident, but they balance out the sourness and really fill it out. Light on the tongue. Chocolate comes through on the finish, as well as a very slight lingering heat from the chili. A very drinkable sour. From a spontaneous fermentation base that Cody made last summer.
  • Simply Winter – 7% – Rye-based. Whiskey/bourbon aroma. Strong rye whiskey taste, with some subtle malty sweetness. Nice mix. Smooth and rich — I kept salivating throughout the finish. I need to buy some bottles of this.
  • Pumpkin Pie Gose (2011) – Strong sour aroma, subtle pumpkin. Very sour/tart start but sweetens a little and the pumpkin flavor comes thru a bit. Really great sour ale interpretation. My favorite pumpkin beer (yeah, I know, that’s not saying much…).
  • Project Two – Belgian-style barley wine. Strong alcohol flavor with good caramel balance. Good lingering bitterness.
    The Rest

  • Kettlebier – 6% – Farmhouse rye ale with oolong tea. Sweet bubblegum start with bitter tannic tea flavor. Light rye. Interesting but too tannic for me. Over-steeped, perhaps?
  • Winter’s Haze – 7.5% – Big floral, herbal, and citrus, and bit of earthy hops. Light caramel, and also some bubblegum. Lingering bitter finish.
  • Salty Ghosts – 4.3% – Sour wheat with coriander and sea salt. Popcorn aroma. Sour tang with salt and coriander edges. Buttery, too. Basically salty buttered popcorn.
  • Misty Rain of the Quinalt – 7.9% – Farmhouse IPA with spruce tips. Fruity aroma. Super sweet start – strawberry, mango, and bubblegum. Then the funk comes out. Bitter finish.
  • Huckeberry Sour (Batch #1) – 5% – When I bought the bottle Cody recommended drinking it within a year, but for some reason I waited a little bit longer than that. Light and tart, but subtle metallic taste on finish and a bit of oxidation. Good amount of huckleberry flavor, though. Wish I’d opened it right away.
  • Tart Miso – 3% – Really interesting. Very light color. Quite sour, with brothy mouthfeel from miso. Very unique, definitely not for everybody. Bit too much brothy mouthfeel for me after a few sips.
  • Of the Earth (2013) – 3.2% – Medium brown color. Malty aroma. Malty, nutty, bit of earthiness, hint of sweetness. Light mushroom flavor on the finish. Interesting and not bad but not quite my thing.
  • Just in Smoke – 4.2% – Very smoky aroma and flavor. Crisp, with honey and maple sweetness. Pretty interesting but a taster was enough for me.
  • Forest – Dubbel with whiskey staves. Malty with a nice subtle whiskey edge. Very subtle sour mash flavor.
  • Super Saison – 11% – Herbal aroma. Fairly malty for a saison, with rye undertones and a bit of a bitter finish.
  • Beet Down (2012) – 5.6% – Sour and beety, with a touch of dirt on the finish.
  • Desert (2012) – Oat-based saison. Fairly strong whiskey flavor and light on the tongue.
  • Zero Minute IPA – Wet hop Lambic. Medicinal aroma. Sour, quite light, with lingering parsnip/lemon grass flavor. Really interesting. One of strangest wet hop beers I’ve had.

The menu at Gastropod changes from week to week, and each beer seems to last about a couple weeks. So yeah, there always something new to try. And just because you’ve made it this far, I’ll put the original picture down here:

original EPIC Ales taproom

Cody manning the taps on my first visit to EPIC Ales, way back in November 2011 — Seattle, WA

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