This winter, UCSB alumni Alex Wallash and Jay Goodwin will open an all-sour, all barrel-aged microbrewery in West Berkeley, CA.
The company — The Rare Barrel — burst onto the beer scene with the development of a production facility earlier this year, and the company expects to begin producing beer at the start of 2013. The brewery will produce a sour beer, utilizing a prolonged fermentation process that is specifically designed to create the signature tart, acidic taste. Wallash, who earned his Bachelor’s degree in biology and Goodwin, who earned a Bachelor’s degree in psychology, both graduated in 2008 and first became interested in brewing as seniors.
Four years after graduating from UCSB, the alumni began translating their post-graduation discussions and deliberations about their brewery plans into a career path, beginning fulltime work at the brewery last spring.
According to Wallash, his interest in brewing beer began once he realized how central biology was to the process.
“I began home-brewing on DP and Jay was my roommate … I wanted to learn how to make beer and make a business out of it. Jay and I were in a business class through the technology and entrepreneurship program on campus, which helped us begin to think about making that goal a reality,” Wallash said. “We both loved beer and had an entrepreneurial passion.”
Initially, Wallash intended to pursue the brewing aspect of the business while Goodwin would handle the sales and marketing side. However, the pair’s post-graduation plans changed when Goodwin got a job at The Bruery in Orange County and learned how to make sour beers through his position there. Wallash took a job in biotechnology sales to learn about marketing, and now manages the sales aspect for the company.
Over the years, the two have met to discuss the project and go over business models. Goodwin’s father, Brad Goodwin, is a third partner on the venture with his involvement mainly in the financial and legal aspects of production.
There are a number of reasons why the partners decided to go with producing a sour beer, according to Wallash, who said the beer’s unique flavor resulted from the partners’ collaboration.
“Sour beer is our favorite style — we love the flavors that are defined as tart, acidic and sour,” Wallash said. “Sour beer has characteristics of a nice wine or champagne mixed in with traditional beer. Especially since we age it in a barrel, a very subtle wood flavor is added to the mix.”
The sour taste of the new beer — a flavor that is popular in brew-loving countries like Belgium and Germany — is less common since the fermentation process that produces it is particularly tedious, Wallash said.
“We also wanted to produce sour beer because it is rare. Compared to most beers, which take a month from brewing to the customer’s hand, sour beers take anywhere from six months to three years to ferment,” Wallash said. “There is a longer time commitment and a large delay in revenue, which is why a number of companies don’t make it.”
The flavor is also produced through a concoction of different fermenting yeasts and bacteria and barrel aging causes a slow diffusion of oxygen through the wood, allowing the bacteria to live and produce acids that create the tart flavor.
Creating a sour beer is less up to the brewer and depends more on the various ingredients and processes involved, according to Wallash.
“We always joke that the beer will tell us when it’s ready, not the other way around,” Wallash said. “We create the environment for the yeast and bacteria to make the product. We taste as we go and it is up to the components to do the work.”
The pair chose to develop The Rare Barrel in Berkeley for the city’s mild weather and because they felt sales for their new brew would fare well in the city’s diverse and hip scene. The location will function as both a main production facility as well as a tasting room where customers can try the beer on-site.
According to Goodwin, starting a business can never be just about the money; the business owners must appreciate the product and process in order to succeed.
“Find something that you’re going to do anyway and forget about the money,” Goodwin said. “Do what makes you happy. Salary is only half of the equation. There’s not much money in beer but we’re doing something we really enjoy and care about and that’s vital in starting your own business.”
A version of this article appeared on page 1 of November 15, 2012′s print edition of the Nexus.