The Rare Barrel has been a bastion of sour beer in West Berkeley since it opened in 2013. Since then, the brewery has continued on its quest to create the perfect sour, even as the thirst for hazy IPAs has increased in the craft beer scene around it. Now, the brewery has launched what co-founder Alex Wallash describes as a “side hustle” called Hello Friend, brewing a variety of styles outside the bastion of barrel-aged sour beers.
The choice to step outside the world of sours came down to two things primarily, says Wallash. For one thing, sour beers have somewhat of an “exclusivity component,” with a very particular flavor profile that’s not for everyone. The other is that sour beer is very expensive to make, which prices people out from enjoying it. “While we’ve tried to lower our prices, the cost of making sour beer and doing it in Berkeley just isn’t conducive to making inexpensive, barrel-aged sours,” says Wallash.
Hello Friend is the brewery’s answer to that, opening up to different styles and offering beers at more affordable prices. “For us it’s a side project of making beer that is approachable and inclusive in both flavor profile and price point,” says Wallash. “Rare Barrel has been so focused on the beer side of things — quality, making the best beer possible — and with this the focus is on people, just bringing people together and not being just all about the beer itself.”
The pandemic was a partial catalyst for the creation of Hello Friend, too, says Wallash. “We’ve spent the year separated from loved ones, and with fewer opportunities to make new friends.” They do plan to also keep the old friends, the sour beer enthusiasts who’ve made the brewery successful. Hello Friend production will continue alongside the sours, with increased capacity: A new brewhouse and three more fermenters have been added to the production line.
The first two beers launched May 13 at the tasting room: Late To the Party, a hazy IPA with Citra, Galaxy, and El Dorado hops, and Something Completely Different, a hazy IPA with Citra and Mosaic hops. And according to Wallash, they were busier than expected. A pilsner is currently in the tank with a release planned in the next few weeks, and a grand opening party planned down the line.
Meanwhile the kitchen is fully open for those wishing to try some hazy IPA pairings with the Rare Barrel’s menu. Chef Charis Wall (Gather) is serving seasonal dishes like chilled asparagus with bacon xo, fried egg aioli, scallions, and cashew crunch for dining on the patio, or to go.