Despite his rock-star brewer/founder/CEO status, there’s no persian rug laid out when Patrick Rue brews. There’s no floor-stand candles lit with dripping wax, no nearby couch with hot groupies watching, and not a single tattoo in sight. On the wee three-barrel pilot system of The Bruery, there’s only Patrick, his ingredients and whatever inventive idea floats his way.
Here bright and early on a Friday morning, the production brewery is bustling on an Autumn Maple brewday. It smells like fresh pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. Brewers elevate large drums of mulling-spiced yams into the boil kettle, then top it with a healthy bucket of organic black molasses. Filling-line bottles clank wildly over Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry”, fighting my eardrums like Mike Tyson at a Justin Bieber concert. Patrick is nearby knelt-down fiddling with a finicky heat exchanger on the pilot brew system and doesn’t seem phased, “Tyler (King) says it starts up for him every time,” he quips nodding twice.
The pilot brewery sits quietly off to the side of the main brewhouse. If you’re familiar with the old Bruery tasting room, the kettles and tanks sit (sort of) where the main bar used to be. It’s a simple system, easy to work on like a 1967 Volkswagen Beetle. If you were in a Godzilla costume, the miniature brewhouse would be a perfect set to recreate a Takusatsu film, pretending the tanks were large buildings, thrashing and smashing about while screaming like a giant green lizard.
Most breweries tend to use a tinier half-barrel RIMS homebrew system for pilot batches (15 gallons); however, The Bruery has flexibility to barrel age small batches, do micro-releases for the tasting room, test out different recipes, and collaborate quickly and easily on the 180 gallon system.
Today’s brew comes by way of collaboration. Grant Tondro, general manager and proprietor of Urge Gastropub in San Diego is here to help brew their third anniversary beer. “We were thinking of doing a Belgian pale ale with bourbon soaked Madagascar vanilla beans and orange zest – inspired by an orange cream soda,” says Patrick with an Elvis-like raised lip. Grant adds, “if there’s time, I’d like to hit it with some french oak to enhance the vanilla.” With only seven weeks until the anniversary party (late July), oak spirals are definitely an option.
With Patrick in the pilot seat, the brewday is child’s-play; he grains-in while Grant breaks up the dough-balls. I even get to lend a hand, holding up Patrick’s black hefty sack. As grains slowly convert to sugar, flavor and color over the next hour, the true spirit of collaboration takes hold – time is filled with beers and funny stories. At 9:45 A.M., Patrick guides us through a couple unreleased Bruery beers and Grant talks about Urge Gastropub’s latest endeavor that includes a bowling alley on a half-acre lot opening Feb 2014. “24,000 square feet of craft beer goodness!” says Grant.
Back in the brewery, the system vorlaufs, sparges, then lauters into the boil kettle. The two gentlemen get down to business as Patrick snaps on the latex gloves. “Is it time for my exam?” asks Grant to my amusement. “Lets talk hops,” says Rue sliding open the cooler. As a wine sommelier, Grant prefers to let the the complexity of the beer derive from the yeast, vanilla and orange zest in secondary. Patrick suggests Columbus, a good clean bittering hop as the sole sixty minute hop addition. Hands are shook. Knuckles are bumped. Pellets are weighed out, then pitched as the boil starts. Boom.
As the brewday winds down, Grant glistens while graining out. Oxygen is pumped inline through the wort on its way through the chiller. “We can chill down to fifty or hit any temp we want going into the fermenter,” says Patrick on the nimble system. Rue then prepares a healthy pitch of 2.2 billion house-strain yeast cells, squirts down the fittings with sanitizer and sets the little microorganisms free to pursue a life of alcohol/Co2 production and religious consciousness. Beer is being made in pilot proportions.
As Patrick Rue balances his time between family life and operating one of Orange County’s most prolific breweries, it’s great to see his brewday skills are still intact. He’s relaxed, methodical and creative. His brew muscle is roided out and ready to chuck knuckles. The next time you drink a Bruery pilot beer, remember that it’s anything but accidental.
Aftermath! – the beer, called “Rue the Day” ended up at 8.3% and was very “creamsicle-y and super drinkable.” says Grant.