By OC Weekly Staff
By Edwin Goei
By Edwin Goei
By Edwin Goei
By Edwin Goei
By Edwin Goei
By Kiera Wright-Ruiz
By Cleo Tobbi
Few places are more desolate in Orange County than an industrial park on a Friday night: tall, Erector Set-like structures emptied of their workers, with vast parking lots now barren save for a few stray cars belonging to stragglers doing their darnedest to escape so they can join their co-workers in washing down the week's drudgery with booze. Beer. Lots of it—the cheaper, the better.
But just off the 57 freeway in Placentia, in a drab industrial park near a Jeep dealership and acres of similar complexes, dozens of people walk into a drab building. They didn't get that memo. They're filing into a line stretching away from a barrel, which is being used as a tabletop at the moment by five strangers swirling tulip glasses filled with a mahogany-hued liquid, topped with a touch of white foam. They drop their noses, inhale the aroma, then exhale. A sip, a pause, and then they collectively jot down notes.
"It's got more body than most sours," says Pat Callard, a nursing professor with strawberry-blond hair and a wide smile. "It's thicker in your mouth. You can tell it's young yet powerful."
"The oak gives that tart, sharp quality," adds a man in a baseball jacket. "It tastes a little like sour cherries, like the stem or pits of stone fruit."
All around them, sneakers shuffle around the concrete floor of the Bruery, a massive former warehouse, as others wait for a taste of this wonder brew: Marrón Acidifié. Projected on a wall is a live webcast of a simultaneous tasting debut party at Tampa-headquartered Cigar City Brewing, which collaborated on the dark sour ale aged in bourbon and wine barrels for more than a year.
Heavy-duty equipment looms over the thirsty crowd of professionals, college students, travelers, homebrewing buddies, guys in fan jerseys heading out to the Angels game but needing a sip, and couples stopping in for a drink before dinner. Two-story steel tanks morph their moving reflections like funhouse mirrors. As in a scene from Donkey Kong, ladders lead to higher platforms. In one corner, cylinder kegs are stacked in precise rows as though they are World War II-era explosives, awaiting deployment in a fight against evil.
Displayed above the line of wood-handled taps are the night's offerings handwritten in a spectrum of colors on mini blackboards, though regulars can rattle off their favorites with ease. Rugbrød, a robust brown ale brewed with three types of rye malt "tastes like really hearty, aromatic rye bread," says John Stephens, a computer consultant from Aliso Viejo. "You never really taste the alcohol—it's so balanced."
Sours such as Hottenroth Berliner Weisse are "like nothing you've ever had," proclaims Adam Martin, a civil engineer from Fullerton, with notes "more complex and appealing than wine."
Pacing the room in a plaid shirt, jeans and curly brown hair is Patrick Rue, the brewery's 30-year-old founder and CEO. He has been called a "local ambassador" in the craft-beer explosion by Sam Calagione, founder of Delaware powerhouse Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, and a mad genius by his staff. Though built like a stein at 6 feet and 240 pounds, Rue's presence is unassuming, his demeanor gentle. He has starred in a TV pilot for a series on craft brewing, earned gold medals from the World Beer Cup, and watched four-hour lines pop up for his most famous aged imperial stout, Black Tuesday. His reaction? "It's weird," he says with a boyish grin.
The Bruery—which celebrates its third anniversary this weekend with a local beer festival at the Phoenix Club, the OC old guard's ultimate beer heaven—leads the charge in Southern California of a beer renaissance, one that has seen common folk become weekend brewmasters in their garages, convinced restaurants to offer microcrafted drinks whose fans debate their merits with the obsession of baseball scouts arguing over a high-school ringer, and made consumers see there is more to the drinking life than what the Busches and Coors and Coronas of the world shove down our collective gullet every Friday night.
"That's what I call 'pee water,'" scoffs Richard Callard, a retiree from Diamond Bar wearing a T-shirt from a brewery near San Diego. "It can't even compare." He adds with fervor, "You won't find a bunch of drunks here. We like to enjoy our beer."
Still a relatively new kid in the industry, the Bruery has become world-renowned for full-flavor, Belgium-style craft beer meant to be sipped and savored rather than chugged through a beer bong. The batches are brewed with ingredients typically reserved for a dinner feast—lavender, truffle salt, pasilla chiles, even beets—and sold in sleek champagne bottles, never 24-packs at Ralphs. As one Internet fan put it, "Their beer isn't for the masses, but the masses we're not."
"It's definitely overwhelming," Rue adds. "People expect a lot from us, and we want to keep up. We want to give people a new experience with beer. We're striving to do something different with different spices, different yeast strains, a lot of different hops, different bacteria to make some beers sour, different types of barrels. Beer, you can play with it. Beer can be for everybody."