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
Perhaps it's the recession or that baby boomers, their once-faithful audience, have retired from their glory days of counting down an afternoon, can after can. But many believe people simply want more from this alcoholic staple made with water, barley, hops and yeast. "You wouldn't walk into a restaurant and order 'a plate of food,'" the late, legendary English beer writer Michael Jackson has been quoted as saying. "So why would you do the same with your beer?"
"People are looking differently at their food, realizing the value of organic crops, which came into the culinary world, then the wine world, and now the beer world," says Steven Armstrong, who writes the Craft Beer Chronicles column for the Los Angeles Times tabloid Brand X. "They're realizing that with industrial beer, there's no human touch. It doesn't taste good, doesn't smell good. And it's not just snobs who believe this. It's normal people. Our standards are rising."
In 1980, America had all of eight craft breweries. Three decades later, there are around 1,800—and the number grows every month. While still accounting for just 8 percent of beer sales in the United States, craft brewers have seen double-digit growth in their retail dollars during the past two years. Today, at specialty markets and upscale liquor stores, armies of craft-beer bottles line refrigerator shelves, with names that sound like those of crazy pirate-ship dwellers: Cockeyed Cooper, Arrogant Bastard, Old Leghumper, Moose Drool, Ace Joker and Seriously Bad Elf. There are beers for every taste, food and occasion—pale ales, strong ales, bitters, lambics and pilsners. Beers that taste like French toast, and beers that taste like curry.
Orange County and Los Angeles historically trailed other major metro areas in the craft-beer boom, seen as mostly dry land on the California brewery-tour map between San Diego and the Central Coast. But that has changed in the past few years with a new crop of breweries: In addition to the Bruery, there are 23 others in Orange County, including Bootlegger's Brewery in Fullerton, Cismontane Brewing Co. in Rancho Santa Margarita and Noble Ale Works in Anaheim. The high-quality suds being put out are "starting to rival the beer production seen along California Highway 78," Armstrong says. "It never ceases to amaze me what can be done and what people are doing in our back yard."
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Rue ordered from Amazon books such as Designing Great Beers by Ray Daniels, studied the science of brew processes and attended craft brewers' conferences around the country. Rachel jumped onboard as the brewery's co-founder and right-hand woman. Each week, Rue met with his dad for a business coaching session, at which they talked about goals and strategies. His dad suggested a mission statement, a single sentence that describes the purpose of the venture. Rue mulled over the assignment on his blog, on which he chronicled the excitement and travails of starting a brewery, from searching for equipment to finding equipment to getting permits from the city.
"I want the Bruery to have an impact on the beer industry as a whole," he wrote in 2007. "I'd like to be the cause for many to experience a new side of beer—a paradigm shift that makes someone realize that beer is so much more complex, interesting and enjoyable than what they had previously believed."
During that time, Rue visited breweries across the state—Skyscraper in El Monte, Russian River in Santa Rosa, Lost Abbey in San Marcos—armed with lists of questions. Greg Koch, CEO and co-founder of San Diego-based Stone Brewing Co., remembers when Rue asked if he could come down to meet with him about potential Southern California distribution; he agreed out of courtesy. "When we met with him, he knocked it out of the park," Koch says. "I've honestly never had a better presentation about a brand and a brewery from anyone else, be they a newbie or veteran. Both his passion and capability were clear. I told Patrick at the beginning that he had a chance to help play a very transformative role in the OC craft-beer scene."
To help with the actual brewing, Rue hired Tyler King (now the Bruery's head brewer), a buddy from his homebrewing club who was finishing his last year at Cal State Fullerton but already had five years of professional experience as a brewer for BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse. King wanted in from the start. "Not everyone gets to build a brewery from the ground up," the 26-year-old says.
For the Bruery's first batch, the company decided to host a homebrew competition. "We knew we'd probably screw up, and if we did, we wanted it to be a one-time recipe," Rue admits. The winner, out of 34 entries, was Levud's, a golden strong ale that Rue calls "dangerously drinkable" for a beer with an 11 percent alcohol content. It was tested on a 10-gallon system, and when it turned out well, the duo went for a 465-gallon batch. It sold out in about four months—impressive back then, though, "today, it would sell within 10 minutes," Rue says. (Just for kicks, on a week when they had nothing to do, Rue and King signed and numbered every bottle—today, early fans show off the collector's items at tastings.) The Bruery shipped its first case of beer in May 2008.