After touring Anchor and visits to Almanac, Cellarmaker, and FiftyFifty, there was only one thing left to do on my California trip: make the pilgrimage to the East Bay purveyors of dank, The Rare Barrel and Fieldwork.
I was first introduced to The Rare Barrel when visiting SF in October 2014. From the moment you walk in the door, it truly is a sight to behold. A modest and clean tap room dotted with barrel tables gives you a warm welcome, but what really dominates your field of vision is the warehouse full of barrels. Every single beer made at the brewery is sour, and they are all aged in some type of barrel. Stacked almost floor to ceiling are these barrels, making the space look more like a distillery or winery than a brewery. My first beer ever from The Rare Barrel was had at the brewery, and it happened to be a collaboration with another one of my favorite breweries in Cellarmaker. Tangerang wonderfully set the bar for The Rare Barrel’s beers, and I have not been disappointed since. Since that first fateful visit, I’ve been back on 4 other occasions in the past 2.5 years. I was also a member of the Ambassadors of Sour club in 2015, amassing an impressive bottle collection of the brewery’s beers from that year, some of which I still have. All told I’ve tried 42 different beers from The Rare Barrel with an average Untappd rating of 4.37. To put that average rating in perspective, I only rate 12% of the beers I’ve checked in with a rating that high. The lowest rating I’ve given one of their beers is a 3.75, and I’ve given 2 of their beers the very difficult to earn 5 star rating. The Rare Barrel is not just pumping out sours: they’re pumping out damn good sours.
After driving into East Bay from Lake Tahoe, we had a delicious lunch at The Ramen Shop (some of the best ramen I’ve had outside of Japan) and then made our way to The Rare Barrel. I decided to go the taster route so that I could maximize my intake of wonderful sour beer. I started off with Across the Sea, a refreshing gose, and the intriguing Solidarity Forever, a golden sour aged with rose petals, chamomile, and coriander. The next round of 2 consisted of the elderberries and lavender Apropos of Nothing and the always incredible Map of the Moon, an apricot sour bursting with awesome fruit and a big well rounded tart. As far as fruited sours go, this was world class.
A good friend I had not seen in awhile arrived shortly thereafter, and I grabbed my final set of 2 beers before getting ready to move down the road. The Supermassive was a dark sour aged with blackberries and black currants. Dark sours are an underrepresented style, and this beer leaves no stone unturned as it dials up the darkness with some flavorful dark berries. I ended with Bygone, a slightly funky saison. This was the aforementioned beer to receive a 3.75 rating, but make no doubt about it still being a solid beer I would drink any time. My tastings at The Rare Barrel were over, and it was time to make our way to Fieldwork to meet up with some other friends. Before leaving, I made sure to let the brewery know what I thought of them.
— Britt Antley (@BrittskiBeers) April 23, 2017
I first visited Fieldwork in January 2016, and I’ve managed to go a total of 4 times in less than 1.5 years. There are breweries in Houston within a couple miles of me that I have been to less than this brewery in Berkeley, CA. While The Rare Barrel fulfills my East Bay sour needs, Fieldwork steps it up with their IPA and stout game. They also make saisons and sours, but where they really shine is with their hoppy and big dark beers. I have had 25 unique beers from Fieldwork, and those have earned an extremely respectable average rating of 4.05. A couple of their beers only earned a 3.5 rating from me, but I need to quickly wax poetic about one of their beers. The Coconut Milk is an 8.6% Double IPA made with hand toasted coconut and milk sugar. The mouthfeel is frothy and thick deliciousness, and coupled with the coconut and citrus hops it’s the liquid hopped up version of a coconut milk shake. It’s definitely one of the most well pulled off unique hoppy beers I’ve ever had.
When I arrived at Fieldwork, I was disappointed to not see Coconut Milk on their draft board, but there was plenty of other great beers to keep me distracted from that fact. I started off with a flight of 6 hoppy brews: Hammer Pants (awesome name!), Shoreline, Saint Thomas, Corner Shop, Nug Champa, and Storm Surge. Saint Thomas was my favorite of the bunch, and that’s not a surprise given its Mosaic single hopped nature. I’m no hop expert, but the complexity of fruit salad and grapefruit citrus flavors imparted by Mosaic is incredible. Saint Thomas beautifully showcased these flavors (although it’s no Yellow Rose). Earlier in my CA trip I was treated to a Super Saint Thomas, a double dry hopped version of the already hoppy namesake. As my check in can attest to, it was loaded with Mosaic, and “you know I love that shit.” Having satiated my hoppy yearning, it was time to get dark and dirty. I chose to close out with a foursome of stouts: Shoot the Moon, Morning Time, and the regular and imperial versions of Hot Chocolate Mexican Stout.
The Shoot the Moon was nothing special, but the other three were all phenomenal in their own ways. As you may guess from its name, Morning Time was a heavily coffee infused oatmeal stout. While I don’t drink coffee on its own, I love a good coffee beer, and this delivered. The Hot Chocolate Mexican Stout was exactly what it sounded like: a fairly light bodied foreign export stout flavored with chocolate, cinnamon, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, and ancho chilies. There was a lot going on, but it worked well together without being overwhelming. The chili heat was subtle and only added to the overall tasting experience. After these flights, I was quite tipsy and well on my way to drunk town, so it was time to ride back into SF and finish out the last day of my vacation.
I hope I’ve imparted in you some of my love for The Rare Barrel and Fieldwork. If you ever find yourself in the Bay Area, I highly recommend you hightail it over to Berkeley and indulge in these world class breweries.