Interview with San Francisco Rising Star Jay Goodwin of Rare Barrel

by Sean Kenniff
June 2016

Sean Kenniff: How did you get your start?
Jay Goodwin:
I’m from Berkeley, but I was born the day I moved from there to San Francisco. I grew up on the peninsula, and went to the University of California at Santa Barbara. I studied psychology. My roommate in college, Alex, did all of these projects about how to start a brewery, and we thought, ‘why don’t we do this one day?’ Alex was a bio kid, so he said he could be the brewer and I could do the sales and marketing. So I started looking for that kind of job, but got sick of it. In 2008, I started calling breweries within 100 miles, and I got a job at The Bruery in Orange County; they're were doing experimental stuff. That's when our roles switched. Alex got a job doing bio tech sales. Four years later we quit our jobs and opened this in 2013.

SK: What’s your most important brewing rule?
If you can’t drink two glasses of a beer, it needs more work.

SK: How did you find your space?
It took longer than I thought. We looked all over, but really wanted to be in Berkeley. We have a funky style for a city with a funky history. When we found this place, we knew it was the one. It was just a shell; an old warehouse space. No offices, no running water, no sewer, or bathroom. But we had to do it. It was an initial investment of more than $500,000. The three of us, me, Alex, and my dad, have full control. Alex's paretns invested, too. No loans to a bank or credit cards.

SK: Can you tell us about your production?
All of our kegs are here; 99 percent of our sales are out of this space. Our first year, we produced 700 barrels. Our second year, 1,200. We’re hoping to make around 2,000 this year. It took three years to get this place filled, but it’s still not really filled. We have 12 beers on tap at a time. We’re not producing enough to supply wholesale yet. Plus, we have so much control because we only serve our beer here. Occassionally, we'll give bars and restaurants we like a keg. The first keg we ever sold was to Alice Waters. We've also supplied State Bird. 

SK: What’s your favorite bacteria/yeast/profile?
Tart saisons are lovely—saison yeast with wild years and bacteria.

SK: What’s your favorite beer you’ve ever made?
Ensorcelled, a dark sour with raspberries. I'm experiemental in every way from company culture and openess to new ways to do payroll. We'll serve sour beer with fresh watermelon juice, an idea that came from the tasting room staff. It's awesome and people love it. We'll regularly do special blends at the taps. I encourage people to blend. When people come here we have to deliver the whole experience. For some people this is their first sour beer experience. 

SK: What's your favorite aspect of the business? 
 The number one thing I love about this business is the a labor. The yeast and bacteria make all the beer and all they want sugar and the right temperature. That's billions of employees I have that I don't have to pay and they make all the beer. To get into a business where little micro-organisms do all the work is great. We treat the humans really well aslo.  

SK: What kind of reputation to want your brewery to have?
I want to be know for having the absolute best practices across all aspects; that's what a brand is. I think we're going to be a sour beer hub. I'll do podcasts and conferences when invited, and brewers are coming to us. We want to share all this information. It's a critical time in sour beer making because no one knows what they're doing, including us. Failure is ok. It's a necessary part of experimentation. We're learning and sharing step by step. When people think of sour beer, we want them to think of us.   

SK: What’s your five year plan?
We let our consumers lead the way. We’re all about slow growth, 10, 20 percent a year. I have no expectations at this point. We have more space to expand next door. We’re working on laws, and our long term goal is to get our beer distributed nationally.