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
He maneuvers around the bar, grabs a glass and asks, "What would you like?"
* * *
Many craft-brewery stories begin with a homebrewer and a dream. Rue decided to make his own beer because he "needed a hobby" while slogging his way through law school at Chapman University. He learned to appreciate a good brew years before it was legal for him to do so. He remembers his first sip of Deschutes' Mirror Pond Pale and Black Butte Porter (both legendary offerings in the world of microbrews) on a family vacation to Oregon, as well as the taste of Samuel Adams Triple Bock on a ski trip to Colorado. When he began college at Santa Clara University, Rue was already a bona-fide beer geek with a discerning palate. "At parties, they'd always have Keystone or something terrible," he says, "but whenever I'd purchase beer, it'd always be craft."
The Brewers Association defines a craft brewer as small, producing less than 6 million barrels per year. They must also be independent and not divisions of corporate brewers such as the popular Blue Moon, produced by Coors—beer aficionados like to call those types of mass-produced beers "Kraft" with a "K." Also crucial is the requirement to be traditional, using "all malt" bases or "adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor"—a seeming jab at industrial brewers who water down their sludge with corn or rice.
At Santa Clara University, Rue picked up a homebrewing kit at Beer Beer & More Beer in Riverside and attempted an amber-hued ale with Cascade hops for his first batch.
"I was so anxious to drink the beer that I let it ferment for [just] three days," says Rue, sitting in the Bruery's conference room, where batch numbers and shipping dates are scribbled on white boards. It typically takes one to several weeks for the fermentation process, but "I took a gravity reading, and it was almost done. So I transferred it over to a keg, and it was murky and kind of disgusting-looking. I force-carbonated it with CO2, shaking the keg. I brewed it on a Friday and drank it on a Monday."
To his delight, it tasted like beer, he says, "but it wasn't very good."
Rue quickly became obsessed with this new hobby, spending all his spare cash on equipment upgrades, setting them up in the garage of the university-owned house he shared with his wife, Rachel. A mini-brewery soon emerged, with taps, a kegerator and such man-cave finishes as neon signs and posters from Rogue and Deschutes, a couple of his "brewing heroes." The showstopper was a shiny, three-tier, stainless-steel homebrew system. "It was like my shrine," he describes. "I would polish it and feel very proud."
On a chalkboard above the makeshift bar, Rue wrote in bold letters, "The Bruery," a spin on his name.
The brewing started a few days a week at a time, flipping through schoolbooks on patents, trademarks and copyrights while the wort boiled. A passionate home cook and foodie, Rue daydreamed about past meals and tried to figure out how to get his favorite ingredients into a bottle.
"I almost never did the same thing twice," he says of beermaking. "I made a Rye IPA (India Pale Ale) that was good. I made a Saison with Thai basil," which would eventually become the inspiration for the Bruery's Trade Winds. "I made a dessert beer that was essentially a barley wine with almost no hops—a very sweet, alcoholic beer. Most of my inspiration came from eating too much."
At school, Rue says, he was seen as "kind of the weird guy" who brought half-gallon glass growlers of his homebrews to house parties.
"Law students are already thinking of themselves as making 150 grand a year," he explains. "They go out to nice restaurants, wear nice clothes, buy nice beer and buy nice wine. The thought of someone making something was kind of foreign to them. They thought I was, like, a hippie or something."
By his final year of school, Rue knew he wasn't destined for the legal world, so he sat out on applying to law firms. After graduating, he thought about trying to work for his dad, a commercial real-estate developer, but a position wasn't available. In terms of a career with a law degree, "the options were a little limiting," he says.
Rue kept toying with the idea of starting a brewery, where he could keep his own hours and have no need for a suit and tie. When he'd bring it up, his friends and family were surprisingly encouraging. "I had lunch with my older brother, Casey, a few times, and I'd say, 'I don't think this is practical. I need to make this much a year. I don't know how I can do this,'" he recalls. "He was like, 'You're young. Don't let money get in the way. Just do it.'" So Rue did, tapping into a trust fund and spending the next year figuring out how to make a living making beer.
He was entering the new venture at an auspicious time. Traditional beer sales have stagnated since the 1990s, despite major ad campaigns for supposed innovations such as "cold-activated" labels (Coors Light) and "vortex bottles" (Miller Lite). Once unstoppable, lapping up local brands or booting them off the shelves, the Big Three—Anheuser-Busch (now Anheuser-Busch InBev), Miller and Coors (now MillerCoors)—now struggle to connect with modern drinkers.