Berkeley’s Rare Barrel launches a spinoff

Also: Masse’s Pastries returns with fancy cakes; Enssaro bounces back from an April fire.

The patio of Berkeley taproom and brewery The Rare Barrel now boasts a new mural from local artist Mila Moldenhawer. Credit: Alex Wallash

Rare Barrel moves beyond sour beers

Since 2013, Berkeley’s The Rare Barrel brewery and taproom has set itself apart with its very specific focus: the company makes sour beer, and sour beer alone. But that all officially changes this weekend, co-founder Alex Wallash tells Nosh, as the business is launching a spinoff called Hello Friend and three new beers, none of which are sour.

The reason for the new business, which Wallash calls a “side hustle,” came down to changing tastes. “For the last eight or nine years we’ve been focused on barrel-aged sour beer,” he said. “That’s what we loved to drink at the time, and it was hard to find back then.” But now, he says, “we want to make IPAs and pilsners, too.” 

As opposed to upending the entire brand, the Rare Barrel folks decided to launch the new beers as part of a spinoff brand, hence the Hello Friend label. “We want a different vibe” than Rare Barrel’s, Wallash said, citing the beer industry expectations for sour beer. “Sour is its own real niche,” he said, “it’s got a higher price point, and it’s often seen as ‘exclusive’” due to its distinctive flavor profile. 

According to Wallash, Hello Friend will be “approachable to everyone,” with more affordable offerings and of-the-moment brews like a 5% classic pilsner and a hazy IPA. In other words, “all the beer styles we haven’t been making,” Wallash said. The name “Hello Friend” also shares that theme of approachability, Wallash said. “It comes from being locked up and isolated for 16 months, and realizing how important people are.” 

“Yes, the beer is important,” Wallash said, “but it’s also about bringing people together.”

The company will launch with three beers to start, all of which will be sold on draft in the Rare Barrel’s taproom, where they’ll supplant some of the non-sour beers Rare Barrel has served via their guest beer program. Hello Friend brews will also be sold by can, Wallash said, and will “work with a new artist” for each of the new offerings’ labels.

The plan is to release two to three cans per month, and those first three will officially launch at a party on Saturday, July 10, from 1-8 p.m., a six-DJ shindig that will spill out onto the Rare Barrel’s expansive patio space, which is home to a new mural from Berkeley-born artist Mila Moldenhawer. There will also be a domino tournament, two food trucks (Mexican cult fave Tacos El Rey and plant-based burger truck Viva Vegan), mochi muffins from Third Culture Bakery and a mechanical bull “that Third Culture suggested,” Wallash said. 

It’s a party that Wallash hopes will be as much a catharsis as a celebration of beer. After all, he said, “it’s been a wild year, but we made it through. We’re on the other side.” The Rare Barrel, 940 Parker St. (near Ninth Street), Berkeley

Masse’s Pastries will fully reopen on Bastille Day

Since 1997, Paul and Marcia Masse have been selling their sweet concoctions from their North Berkeley storefront. Known for European-style cakes, their Buche de Noel is so popular that orders start coming in July, and a special occasion with a Masse cake is how you know you’re at an event to be reckoned with. 

But with special occasions on hold for much of the past year, Berkeleyside readers have worried that Masse’s might not make it through the pandemic. Those fears should be quelled by a sign on the spot’s window this week: closed while the Masse family vacationed since late June, Masse’s will fully reopen for business on July 14. However, hours will remain limited, at least during the summer, with daily operations from 10-5. To pre-plan your order for when they return, check out Masse’s menu here. Masse’s Pastries, 1469 Shattuck Ave. (between Rose and Vine streets), Berkeley

Ethiopian destination Enssaro is back in business

Oakland Ethiopian spot Enssaro shuttered in April after a fire at neighboring sushi restaurant Kinja damaged the business. Since then, owner Solomon Tamirue has been hustling to rebuild, and after some long-delayed inspections last week, Enssaro reopened on July 1.

Those fatigued by change will be happy to see that the reopening menu is jam-packed with all of their favorite Enssaro dishes, including a fine selection of long-simmered wots. And speaking of wots, Tamirue notes that Enssaro still has plenty of its “Wot’s Up” T-shirts in stock, and says that anyone who wears the shirt to the restaurant will get half off their first drink. So, play your cards right, and you could make money on this deal. Enssaro Ethiopian Restaurant, 357-A Grand Ave. (near Perkins Street), Oakland

Eve Batey is the Editor of East Bay Nosh Email: eve@eastbaynosh.org. Twitter: eveb.