This post first appeared at seattlepi.com in 2012. It’s been revised for reposting here.
If you have any regard at all for what the term “craft brewing” means in the larger sense – not just stuff to drink or something cold to wash down your pizza or Ridiculous Excess burger – I want you to take a moment, take a deep breath, clear your mind, and remember that one beer you have surely tasted that, when it was described to you, made no effin’ sense at all. The description may have even made you cringe, a little bit. But you cowboyed up, wrestled the glass to your mouth, and Did The Deed…and were astonished – swooned, smiled, made happy little diaphragm noises, wanted more…
Now…imagine having that moment, that startling spark of revelation, that chill running up your spine that whispers, ” There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy!“, and having it not once every two or three years but…almost every day.
Take a look at this…
It seems impossible that The Bruery has only been in business since 2008. It was a classic story: Patrick Rue, a young newlywed who was just entering law school, back in the early 00s, started innocently homebrewing, with the usual results: messy kitchen, aggravated wife, weird smells wafting across the neighbor’s patio. But in that spume of viciously-tweaked grain aromas a passion was born and yet another career path – and can any of us really claim that we think a career-fail as an attorney is a bad thing? – was summarily yanked askew by visions of crowds of happy beer lovers communing peacefully over beers like few of them have ever tasted. Patrick soon left law school behind and, amid shouts of “What, have you two lost your fu___ng minds?!?“, The Bruery was born.
“Beers like few of them have ever tasted“, to be precise, is what almost every young brewer thinks, when they’re dreaming of their own place and their own success. The catch is, damned few of them are skilled and creative – not to mention brave – enough to actually make beer that’s appreciably different from the other 3,700 other beer producers in the US. The vast majority of brewers struggle mightily, daily, and maybe, if they are very conscientious and persistent ( and lucky), come up with one or two beers in their careers that are distinctive enough to stick in peoples’ minds. Patrick Rue seems not to know how to make anything else. The twelve carefully-chosen bottles above are, with no exaggeration, a tiny fraction of the total number of beers that Rue & Crew have turned out in the company’s astounding 5 and a half year history. RateBeer’s “The Bruery” review list includes three hundred different brews and that’s not counting some that were brief, taproom-only offerings and were never rated. For the math-challenged, that sixty+ beers a year. Many breweries struggle to turn out half that (or a quarter that). It’s especially astonishing when you consider that Patrick Rue still, in the face of all that prolific output, considers his brewery relatively modest and under-equipped.
An affable, quiet-spoken, uber-intelligent man with what some people would call a “baby face” (he’s probably going to be carded in liquor stores until he’s in his forties), Rue is a rather wonky scholar of brewing and beer styles, the breadth of which shows up tangibly in The Bruery’s devout Belgian leanings and in beers drawn directly from other, far more obscure, Euro brewing traditions. One of my favorites is the Rugbrød (second from the right, top row, abive), a Danish-styled Julebryg ale made with three different styles of rye malt. In an era when rye is really just being re-explored as a base grain for beers in the US, (the Europeans have been using it liberally for centuries) only Rue and Seattle’s Adam Robbings of Reuben’s Brews seem sufficiently adept at avoiding rye’s several potential pitfalls and/or cliches to allow them to use it in ways that manage to retain the delightful, chewy spiciness of it without having it dominate and skew the finished ale. Rue, in particular, seems to have a bottomless depth of inspiration, churning out new and innovative brews with a fantastic ease. He creates in beer the way Mozart created in music, and when I try some of the newer Bruery releases, I’m continually reminded of Mozart’s own words: “I make music as a sow piddles.” While I’m a definite advocate of keeping the sow analogy as far away from anything having to do with beverages as possible, it’s inarguable to me that Rue seems to make this near-impossible business of making eye-popping, soul-rattling ales look awfully easy, in a time when many, many young brewers are finding out the hard way how freakin’ difficult is actually is.
Normally, I would do a run-down of and tasting notes for a fair number of the brewery’s ales I’ve mentioned but, if I did that here, we’d both be here all day. To hit just a few of the highlights:
Rugbrød: Literally translated from the Danish, this means “rye bread” and, for a fact, that’s what the basic flavor of this ale recalls: a toasty slice of peppery Danish rye bread. A Julebryg-style ale (in effect, a Danish Christmas ale), Rugbrød shows a yeast-driven layer of sweet baking spices and assorted tree and stone fruit notes that harmonize prettily with spruce-tinged hops. 97 Points
Black Tuesday: A genuinely titanic (19% ABV!) Imperial Stout that shows clearly that Patrick Rue and his merry henchmen can find their way out of the Belgian milieu long enough to turn out a genuinely ass-kickin’ BritTrad Stout. This stuff is deeper and blacker than the pit of hell and as flawless a Stout as anybody has made in the past ten years. Recently, Rue came up with a “Black Tuesday Reserve” Series bottling of this that spent a luxurious 20 months in two different tiers of oak barrels. “Decadent” would undersell this labor-intensive, 20 ABV+ masterpiece. It’s rich as a gaggle of Buffets and Gateses, seriously chewy and fudgy, and as accomplished a Reserve Stout as has ever been made in the US. They also make a cacao nib and vanilla bean infused version called “Chocolate Rain“, which may just be the most hedonistic beer any of us have ever tasted, including Delirium Tremens and Southern Tier “Creme Brulee”. 100 Points each
Smoking Wood: The brewery’s website starts its description with “Brewed with beachwood and cherrywood smoked malt, and aged in rye whiskey barrels…” and that’s really all I needed to start saying “Gimme, gimmie!” I was NOT dissappointed. A big, lusty, SMOKY Imperial Porter, SW is mouth-filling, nearly-overwhelming hedonist’s beer, and one of the top two or three smoke ales I have ever tasted. 98 Points
Tradewinds Tripel: This is an absolutely flawless, soulful, light, exotic ale that Works – not only as a near-unforgettable thing to just sit and sip but as one of the best American food beers ever! Brewed with rice and Thai basil, Tradewinds’ glorious spice notes are derived from subtle, complex yeasts and masterfully restrained use of hops. The rather hefty alcohol aside (8% ABV), this is a perfect summer ale that’s THE pairing with Asian foods, seafood, and any green salad. 98 Points
Floyd D’Rue: A Belgian-inspired brewery making an Imperial Porter? Hey, why the hell not, especially when you collaborate with a larger-than-life outfit like Three Floyds Brewing? This is a total, toss-out-the-templates rethinking of what “Porter” means. The finished beer was put up in wet rum barrels for a year, where it grew a bunch o’ tentacles just from the ageing, enhanced by judicious infusions of vanilla bean, orange zest, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, star anise, nutmeg, and ginger. The finished product reeks of that “Every Little Thing Gonna Be Alright” rum character, cocoa, horehound, malt balls, and . 99 Points
Cuivre: Solera-method aged anniversary ale, this is weird-ass hybrid that takes from the British Old Ale tradition and runs that thought headlong into a wall of Belgian yeast. Some of each year’s anniversary ale is held back and blended into the successive years, and then given additional barrel time. Crazy, right? But it Works…My God, does it work! This is an insanely complex elixir that delivers layers upon layers of flavors and textures, ranging from fruit leathers to fresh figs to wood notes galore to a full-frontal suggestion of fruitcake and rum-soaked dates. Just…mind-bending. 99 Points
Terreaux Series “Sour in the Rye”: Again, Rue’s mastery of rye whelps a beer that almost defies both categories and descriptions. Possibly the outright funkiest of their bottled beers, this is a 40% rye mash that spends a full year getting punch drunk on sour yeast and bacteria. What comes out of the bottle smells like an old blanket soaked in sour spiced cider and tastes like what God would give out as a party aperitif. I could drink this stuff daily, for about…oh, forever. 99 Points
Mash: “An English Barleywine aged in Bourbon barrels“…what else do I need to say? Notes of burnt sugar, stewed figs, dark toffee, vanilla, coconut, roasted nuts, fruit leathers, and dates parade across the tongue like The Royal Guard at The Queen’s Jubilee, all stately and imposing, and a unctuous, viscous dose of oak tannin gives it a creamy, buttery mouthfeel. The wet Bourbon barrels make their presence known, too, with a boozy cast and fierce intensity that has nothing at all to do with hops, which many American brewers use to provide oomph to their Barleywines. This beer style is probably, when all’s said and done, my absolute favorite style of ale for just sipping and wallowing in greatness and I can’t name three other Barleywines in my life that are at all better than Mash. There is world-class Oomph in this baby and a planetary shot of elegance, too. 100 Points
The Bruery is located in Placentia, Califorrnia, out in the far eastern LA ‘burbs, next door to Fullerton. If you find yourself in LA and you don’t – for reasons passing all understanding – make the trip out to The Bruery’s Taproom in that tidy little industrial park, just off the intersection of CA routes 91 and 57, just send me an email when you get back, include your address, and I’ll come to your house, ring your doorbell, and choke you, when you answer, until the piss runs out your ears. It’s the least I can do…
… and if I wasn’t already “scared” out of ever trying to start a commercial brewery … I now am after reading that post. 🙂 It’s not a bad thing at all … Kevin Axt
I’m excited to visit The Bruery in a few months 🙂