10 New, Rare Beers from California

Drink Lists
10 New, Rare Beers from California

In Northern California, there is an embarrassment of spectacular resources for brewers. Incredible hop selections and clean mountain water, not to mention a primo proximity to a wealth of wine barrels, make for some stellar beers being crafted all over the Bay Area and its surrounding counties. While that’s all great news for local drinkers, it also raises the stakes for those actually brewing the stuff.

That means every year, breweries in the area bring out their best, boldest, and ballsiest beers to San Francisco Beer Week. Hundreds of companies show off their year’s most imaginative brews, collaborations, and, particularly in 2016, their rich imperials and barrel-aged anything.

Some on this list are rare, and some aren’t even bottled, meaning seekers may need to plan a West Coast trip to imbibe. Others might be available in a local bottle shop, if fortune is on your side.

These are some of the most incredible styles we tasted during the 2016’s San Francisco Beer Week.

Cellarmaker Quad Dobis

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Photo credit: @cellarmakerbrewing/Instagram

Cellarmaker is well aware that their Quad Dobis is ridiculous; they write it down right on the beer’s description. What they didn’t add was that this brew was so fantastic it sold out at the San Francisco brewery before Beer Week even ended. Hopped with 100% Citra (around 77 pounds of the stuff was used in a single batch) the lush Dobis still manages to somehow hit the tongue with balance and restraint.

Triple Voodoo Barrel Aged Triple in the 5th

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Photo credit: Triple Voodoo Brewery

For the 2016 Beer Week, Triple Voodoo offered up several barrel aged styles, but none quite compared to their Barrel Aged Triple in the 5th. Stored in Chardonnay barrels from Frank Family vineyards (a winery in the St. Helena appellation that produces an extremely full, buttery varietal) this tripel turned out sharp, sweet, and with a sort of depth not often present in other wine barrel-aged styles.

The Rare Barrel Dubious Nights

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Photo credit: @Therarebarrel/Twitter

At the San Francisco Beer Week Opening Gala, The Rare Barrel maintained a line of 50 or more people waiting to taste their brews, eventually causing them to run their kegs dry less than halfway through the event. That wasn’t a surprise — the Berkeley sours-only brewery has garnered itself a fervid fanbase despite its short existence. But their pour offering at the event was a surprise: a dark sour aged in tequila barrels. The rich plum-cherry hinted ale was aged in four different charred and un-charred tequila barrels for over a year before being blended and served. The result is a tart, agave-sweetened challenge to the oversaturated bourbon barrel-aged selection at this year’s events.

Almanac Truthful Statement

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Photo credit: @almanacbeer/Instagram

Almanac’s Farm to Barrel series is nothing if not respectable. The brewery quite literally takes a bunch of fruit, oftentimes from a farm looking to unload them before they turn, and brews them up into a batch of juicy, barrel-aged dreams. Their Truthful Statement imperial stout is an example of an exceptional go round, thanks to a fermentation with the brewery’s in-house sour culture, followed by a helping of Bing cherries and oranges before aging in rich vanilla Woodford Reserve Bourbon barrels. The finished product is a tangy, smooth pour, reminiscent of a classic Old Fashioned cocktail.

Black Sands Smash Nelson

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Photo credit: Black Sands Brewery

Black Sands Brewery was a new 2016 addition to the San Francisco Brewers Guild, but was very much a welcomed one. Initially launched as a brew shop and homebrewing school, it has made immense progress towards commercial output in the last few months. This Beer Week, it held a Smash Fest, featuring six styles each brewed with a single hop and single malt. The shining star of the set was the Smash Nelson, a crisp, tropical double IPA made with 100% rare Rahr Pale Ale malt and, of course, Nelson hops.

NOMA Collaboration Spring Training Saison with Yuzu Peel & Sea Salt

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Photo credit: @wholefoods/Instagram

San Francisco Beer Week was stacked with heavy brews (viscous sours and vanilla-rich barrel aged imperials were the honor of many events) making the crisp NOMA collaborative a refreshing alternative. Crafted by 12 brewers at Fort Point’s San Francisco brewery, the saison’s tart citrus notes, balanced by sea salt is an ingenious combination, and is truly primed for baseball season. It will be available readily too; Whole Foods stores in the Bay Area will carry both Spring Training as well as the decadent SOMA collaborative chicory porter for a limited time.

Modern Times Rye Barrel Aged Monster Park

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Photo credit: @moderntimesbeer/Instagram

This beer already sounded like a beast when we ordered it. A solid choice for whiskey fans, this nearly black Modern Times brew from San Diego comes with a high 13% ABV in a five-ounce snifter. Thanks to being aged in seven-year-old whiskey barrels, the coffee-rich imperial stout has also picked up vanilla and brown sugar notes, but still packs a heavy punch of rye. For serious barrel aged brew hunters, this is a must-have.

Cascade Vlad the Impaler

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Photo credit: Cascade Brewing

One of the few non-California breweries to hold a solo tap takeover in San Francisco during Beer Week, Portland’s Cascade Brewing Company truly brought out its primo stuff. One of the best was a rare novelty: the Vlad the Impaler. This sour is in itself an oddity; it’s composed of an oak barrel-aged sour blonde quadrupel and a sour bourbon barrel tripel and a sour strong spiced blonde, all livened by wild yeast during the aging process. With hints of apple, brown sugar, and a smooth buttery oak finish, it may not taste like a beer that “impales” you, but in this case, that’s a very good thing.

Speakeasy Syndicate 03

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Photo credit: @speakeasybeer/Instagram

Speakeasy is relatively new to the barrel-aging game, but already, it’s making strides. Their yearly Syndicate style, traditionally a blend of their darker brews aged in bourbon barrels, has come out drastically different every year, but its third incarnation, Syndicate 03, is the best to date. Made from a blend of seven styles, the December 2015 release was led primarily by a 13-month aged Scarface Imperial Stout component. Each of the beers is first aged in barrels separately for different amounts of time, before being blended into a Brite tank and bottled. While this is a good bottle to stash away for another year of bottle aging, its current state is pretty tasty, too.

Knee Deep Hop Surplus

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Photo credit: Knee Deep Brewing

Knee Deep, a young brewery out of Auburn, California, is known for its robust beer offerings, so it shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise that its golden-colored Hop Surplus double IPA would be one of the best newcomers at this year’s fest. A cousin to their Hop Shortage triple IPA, which is brewed using only Centennial and Chinook hops, the Surplus is cooked up using Chinook too, as well as Cascade, Amarillo, and Summit hops. Its taste is crisp, its IBUs are high, but most importantly, it packs a punch.

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