Once Upon A Time…if you went looking for a bottle or can of beer from Washington, anywhere else in the United States, you found Red Hook – ONLY Red Hook. Very adventurous and intrepid retailers may have carried a Pyramid or two but that’s probably because Pyramid was also based in Berkeley, CA, a place from which packaged stuff of all kinds routinely got circulated. Up here, because the vast majority of our breweries were small operations…we drank everything they made. You chumps didn’t get any because bottling costs more and nobody needed to do it. And, as realistic Washingtonians, we all understand, even today, that part of our charm is that we are such atrocious homers. Folks in Washington are not, for the most part, seeking the spotlight. We’re quite happy to be Big Fish in our own comfortbale, quirky, twisted little pond; the kind of place in which many natives still view the classic TV series, “Twin Peaks” as a documentary. We’re weird and know it, isolated and celebrate it, eggheads and proud of it, and incredibly hard-working and wouldn’t have it any other way.
But, as the years have passed and craft beer as a nationwide culture has reached a certain maturity, we’ve been forced out of our cozy wigwam. Charlie Finkle’s reputation as one of the founders and true visionaries of American craft beer, Dick Cantwell’s sheer expertise, and Wil Kemper’s world-class reputation as a maker of German and Czech style ales and lagers, all have pushed our profile Out There. And it’s given some gregarious young brewers…Ideas.
When British transplant, Adam Robbings – already one of the nation’s top homebrewers – opened Reuben’s Brews in 2012, across the street from the old Bardahl plant, in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, he wasn’t infected with our famously-recessive low-ambition genes. Even his brother-in-law and invaluable right-hand-man, Mike Pfeiffer, moved here from Illinois, so there was no one to tell the two that ambition, in Seattle, is considered UnCool. As his beers hit the American market and shocked brewmasters everywhere began to tell friends about this budding colossus in software-intensive Seattle, Adam and Mike obligingly began to strategize ways to meet demand, instead of more or less denying it was happening, as has been the traditional WA Way. After two and a half years of schlepping his own wares all over this end of the state, he hired a distributor. Demand increased more quickly than anyone had imagined… so Reuben’s moved into a larger facility and more than doubled their capacity. (They’re also contemplating yet another small place near the brewery for storage and offices) And now, after sorta tenatively issuing knee-jerk 22 oz. bombers of a few of his ales, mostly as a courtesy and for mostly local consumption, Adam has now started putting beer into cans and ramping up production in a way that will allow some beers – like the lovely Gose mentioned below! – to go year-round and allow folks in other parts of Planet Earth to taste his work…and – trust me on this – you DO want to pick up what Reuben’s Brews is layin’ down.
I want to say this directly, in a way that brooks no misinterpretation:
Reuben’s Brews is well on its way to forcing the issue of inclusion in any list of America’s Top ten breweries. Yes, by damn, the beers ARE that good. They are Deschutes Good, Stone Good, Dogfish Good, Great Divide Good, Jester King Good, Cigar City Good. Across the board, beer for beer, Reuben’s Brews is as good a total line-up of work as you’ll find from any brewery, anywhere…and these first wider-distribution selections are Living Proof.
The 22 oz. bomber shown here is Reuben’s Brews Dry-Hopped Sour, a classic, near-perfect Berlinerweisse, hopped with dazzling New Zealand Motueku dry flowers. The crackery finish, a delightful impression of saline (even thugh Adam corrected me and said that there’s no salt used in this guy), the user-friendly mash-sour and the gloriously florid hops flavors of tropical fruit, coconut, stone fruit, and Asian spices hum along in the background, gilding that assertively beautiful, peppery Berliner wheat character without covering it up at all. Make no mistake about it, this beer will stand on even footing with any German-made Berliner you’ll find in American stores. If you want to know how this trendy, uber-popular, emerging style of wheat ale is supposed to taste, this bottle is a virtual handbook. The bracing crispness and ridiculously low alcohol – just 3.2%! – explain just a part of why it’s remained one of Germany’s foremost beer-geeky styles of ale, even in that lager-dominant culture that doesn’t exactly trive on sours. The rest is in the subtly compelling flavors of apple cider, pears, peaches and gooseberries that form the snappy core and offset the forthright sour with a lovely impression of sweetness. I don’t know how Adam Robbings came by his knowledge of this beer style and I wouldn’t presume to speak for him. (Hell, for all I know, this stuff is just the serendipity of a Great Idea and Mad Skills…but somehow I doubt that.) I can tell you this: in a region in which we have world-class makers of this style like DeGarde, Cascade Barrelhouse, Upright Brewing, The Commons, and the titanic The Ale Apothecary, Reuben’s has managed to turn out the single best Berliner I’ve tasted from a PNW brewery yet. 98 Points
The appearance of a canned beer – Reuben’s Brews Gose – from Reuben’s(!) got me as excited as any news I’ve heard from any Washington brewery in a solid year. The fact that it’s a Gose(!) and it’s not infused with anything but the traditional basics just gilds that florid lily. Adam told me this morning that he made a Gose for the pinkbootssociety.com, last week, that was infused with hibiscus, and that sounds delicious but I’m a sucker for the basic beer, too. For those with a geeky bent, Gose is a 1,000 year old beer style that originated in the town of Goslar, in German province of Saxony, straddling the Gose River. The hallmark salty flavor originally came from mineral-intensive aquifers that fed springs in the Goslar area, and the mining which brought those mineral salts to the surface. After the mines shut down, in the late Middle Ages, Gose production drifted downstream to Liepzig, which is now considered the homeland of the style. Modern brewers add salt to the mash to maintain that classic flavor profile and the addition of lactobacillus bacteria adds the sourness. This Reuben’s version is Classic Gose; very lightly spiced in the traditional manner, with coriander and lemon zest leading the profile, underpinned by pretzels, apricot marmalade, orange peels, green apple, and a touch of banana. Classic, balanced, utterly delicious…and low in alcohol – just 4.3% ABV! 99 Points
My one and only complaint with these two beers is basic: Why the hell would Reuben’s release these two beers NOW – in the dead of our soggy, mildewey Northwest winter – that have “summer” written all over ’em? I’m just hoping that this release is a test run, aimed at gauging appeal, so that a late spring release of wider distribution gets a little traction. Having tasted these – along with a couple of other notable efforts from Seattle’s dazzling Holy Mountain and Tacoma’s ground-breaking Engine House No. 9 – I suspect that Reuben’s may just let us get a taste of these with the tepid PNW sun on our backs and some picnic fare on the table. But even if this is all there is for a while, if you’re a sour beer lover, these are two absolutely “Must-Have” releases, from a brewery that’s bringing international acclaim to sleepy ol’ Ballard.