The Rare Barrel Beer Company is an all-sour-all-the-time brewer based in Berkeley, California. It’s basically impossible to go wrong with any Rare Barrel wild ale, but its wet-hopped golden sour Flower to Flower is particularly special. While wet hops—which are freshly harvested and not dried—are typically reserved for pale ales or IPAs, Rare Barrel chucks straight-off-the-vine Chinook and Cascade hops into a golden sour base that has been aged in oak barrels. If that seems like a lot of trouble to brew a beer, that’s because it is. But trust me, the end product is worth the hassle (and accompanying price tag).
The first thing you’ll notice when popping the top off Flower to Flower is a startling plume of bubbles rising out of the bottle. No, you didn’t get a bad batch or shake up the bottle too much, this is simply because Flower to Flower is bottle conditioned—meaning CO2 producing fermentation continues even after bottling. That carbonation doesn’t settle down much for the pour, instead capping the golden bodied beer with several inches of frothy white foam and providing a jet stream of rising bubbles.
Flower to Flower is very good, which is no shock given Rare Barrel’s reputation.”
Most wet hopped beers pack a punch of resinous, vegetal aroma, but Flower to Flower adds another layer with the sour tartness and oak. It’s a complex mix that doesn’t smell quite like anything I’ve come across before, with the tart and woody qualities accentuating the floral and earthy hops.
While the nose screams IPA, the taste reels things back into the realm of sours. Belgian funkiness from the golden ale base and house yeast are complemented by a restrained dose of tartness. The finish briefly brings back the vegetal wet hops with a drying carbonation and the first sign of oakiness, which sticks around after each sip.
Flower to Flower is very good, which is no shock given Rare Barrel’s reputation. But there is also no question the wet hops could have taken up more of the spotlight. Even though it would be tough to maintain the needed freshness in a beer that is soured and barrel-aged, more grassy wet hop flavor could tip a good beer into great beer territory. As it stands, Flower to Flower is an above average golden sour that adds just a little bit of wet hop flare, and that’s certainly good enough.