Patrick RueAnswering a barrage of questions after being awake for two days straight can be a daunting task.  Patrick Rue, CEO and founder of The Bruery, has just flown across the country and has already hit several spots around town, hosting tastings and promoting his beer.  This unassuming man at the bar, bespectacled and outfitted in a company-logo work shirt, is head of one of the hottest names in the craft beer industry at the moment.

A relatively young upstart of a microbrewery, The Bruery is based in Orange County, California and has been active since May 2008.  At present, Patrick tells me that The Bruery has an output of 1600 barrels, and that last year that number was only 600.  All told, he employs a total of 12 people to make this happen, with 3 full-time brewers making sure there’s more beer ready to go.

“We just expanded four months ago in order to meet demand, so hopefully we’ll be able to keep up,” said Rue.  But when asked what he loves most about what he does, Rue replied, “Working with people I work with.  I love it.  They’re all crazy enthusiastic about craft beer, and that level of interaction makes me and them happy to be there.”

Patrick started out as a law school student that got into homebrewing as a diversion from the stresses of deadlines and exams.  After graduating and getting his law degree, Patrick realized that it wasn’t what he wanted to be doing with his life.  “It was a matter of doing something you’re trained in versus doing something that you love.  I chose the latter,” and the Bruery was born.

But what are they doing in Virginia?  Well, after seeing success on the West Coast with consumers and beer judges, and garnering top ratings from beer-centric websites such as RateBeer and BeerAdvocate, they decided to get their brews to beer lovers along the Atlantic Seaboard.  Patrick cites the East Coast’s affection for beers made in the Belgian tradition as a prime reason to get Bruery products in the hands of people clamoring for them.

Patrick describes The Bruery’s lineup as an array of Belgian-style beers that strive to be unique.  “We try to take these styles and make them our own.  But styles are not as important as the beer itself.”  And that’s the exact reason Rue decided to take his beers in a Belgian direction.

“When I was homebrewing, I saw the best success with Belgian-style beers I was making.  They just came out the way I wanted them to.  They also allow for the use of a wide variety of ingredients.”

If you look at their current roster of beers available in Virginia, you’ll see what he means.  Their Orchard White, a Belgian-style witbier, uses coriander, citrus peel, and lavender to make for a complex yet very drinkable beer.  And if you want something a little more exotic, their Trade Winds Tripel summer seasonal features Thai Basil.

“That’s the beauty of these kinds of beers:  versatility.  We don’t like being pigeonholed into one particular style or another, and this gives us a lot of leeway to make the type of beer we want.”

I asked Patrick what other sources of inspiration were out there as a homebrewer and future brewery owner.  He pointed to classic books such as Randy Mosher’s Radical Brewing and Farmhouse Ales by Phil Markowski for great technical homebrewing advice, but also to pioneers in the craft beer industry and beer lovers in general.  “Tomme Arthur from Pizza Port, Vinnie Cilurzo from Russian River – those guys were like gods to me.  But it was also people like Dave Moody, a local guy who lives a couple miles up the road from me that really taught me a lot about brewing.”

Since the beer has to make such a long trip to get to the East Coast, I inquired as to concerns of freshness and the beer’s condition by the time it reaches consumers over here.  Rue illustrated his plans to avoid this by limiting the amount sold to distributors.  This way, product continues to move and fresh bottles stay on the shelf.  However, Patrick also noted that they do have beers that do well with cellaring.  “The Saison Rue at about two years out is drinking really nicely, and last year’s Trade Winds is also delicious right now.  Not only that, but all our seasonals can stand up to some cellaring and can improve with age.”

In time, it won’t just be bottles in Virginia.  The Bruery is already on tap in New York and Massachusetts, and it is anticipated that they’ll hold some taps in the Commonwealth sometime in the near future.  Not only that, but they plan on expanding their lineup with more year-round beers to widen the selection.  Currently, The Bruery offers five year-round beers and four seasonals, along with special release batches and an anniversary ale.

Although they are making one-of-a-kind beers, I asked Patrick what he thought about the craft beer market in general, and if he thought there was room for more growth or if we were reaching a saturation point.  He sees it as both.  “On one hand, there’s room to grow because there are still a lot of people not drinking craft beer, and there are also enough aficionados out there that are willing to try beers that are new and different.  At the same time, you have a lot more options available and several different layers of craft beer drinkers.”  Mentioning the price components, he makes a very good point about the categories of craft beer consumer and their purchasing habits.  From six packs of cheap pale ale to special release corked and wire-caged Belgian-style beers, there are varying levels of affordability and taste preference.

At the end of our conversation, I wanted to hear The Bruery’s strategy for growth, which tied directly into their brewing philosophy.  Patrick responded, “Simply put, we want to make the best beer possible and reach the people that enjoy it.”  That means continuing with recipe experimentation and making beer that really stands out.

“We don’t want to dumb it down.”  And if the excitement around the brand is any indication, that’s a smart move.

 

This interview also appeared in the Capital Ale House newsletter, albeit in a slightly more abbreviated form. Of course you wanted to read it in its entirety, what with the parts about price components and market saturation included. You’re obviously savvy since you’re reading this blog right now, you wise consumer you.

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