Orange County native Patrick Rue attended Chapman law school and worked at a real estate firm, but it was just a matter of time before he turned to beer. 11 months ago, the longtime home brewer launched The Bruery with wife Rachel, specializing in Belgian-style beer. The Bruery is gaining well-deserved traction throughout the region, but to fully appreciate their mission, it’s worth a weekend foray to Placentia, a little known Orange County hood.
“We focus on more yeast character than hop character,” said Rue. “I didn’t think I’d made my name with hoppy beers since there are so many people producing hoppy beers.” Why Belgian beer? Rue likes the versatility.
Rue led us on a tour of the warehouse space. He and his team begin by crushing bagged malt and leaving the husks attached. They store h seven different hops, mostly German, which are kept at 10-below to maintain peak freshness. Malt is kept in a grist case for a few hours before brewing. It’s then mixed with hot water to form an oatmeal consistency.
The mash converts malt into sugar. They drain the sweet liquid from the grains and transfer the clarified brew to a boil kettle. Bring the liquid to 215 degrees, then introduce hops and spices. Most beers boil for 60–90 minutes. They anniversary beer, a 15% old ale, boils for 3 hours, creating “a rich less hoppy barleywine.”
A whirlpool holds the water and acts as a centrifuge. Proteins and hop matter flow to the center for 20 minutes. They’re removed and the beer is cooled to 60–70 degrees. Introduce yeast in the fermenter and the beer ferments for 14-20 days. Higher alcohol and sugar content takes longer. Sugar and yeast cause a secondary fermentation in the bottle. Four people can manually bottle 300 bottles in an hour. Most bottles are aged two months before The Bruery releases it for sale.
With barrel aging, brewed beer is transferred to barrels for anywhere from 6 months to 3 years. With Bourbon barrels, the flavor transfers in about a year. Bitter beer takes longer. The Bruery also utilizes Rye, Whiskey, Brandy, Chardonnay and Burgundy barrels. Rue sources Bourbon barrels from Kentucky and wine barrels from Napa.
After the brewing process is complete, a Corona pig farmer hauls off the spent grain, which is less expensive than trashing the grain and benefits the farmer.
We joined Rue at the tasting room to sample his full list, many of which are unavailable outside of The Bruery’s walls. The room is open on Fridays and Saturdays and has been known to attract up to 100 people at a time on Saturdays. The week’s options are listed on a blackboard.
Rue started us on Orchard White, an aromatic beer brewed with coriander, lavender and orange peel. He then transitioned to Saison de Lente, a seasonal beer timed for release with Lent.
This is when we got into some beers than are unavailable on the open market, including Hottenrath Berliner Weisse, a 3% German wheat beer named for his mother in law. It’s sour due to lactobacillus, which creates lactic acid.
Cuvee Jeune is a young Lambic that’s 6.5% ABV, made sour from three souring bacterias, including lactobacillus, pediococcus and brettanomyces. Rue said the beer is aged in Chardonnay barrels for 10 months and is 40% wheat and 60% barley.
Humulus Lupulus is the Latin name for hops, so Rue created the Humulus Blonde using Sterling and Summit (citrus-y) hops. He also handpumped a Humulus Blonde on cask that was infused with Simcoe hops and whole leaf Chamomile.
White Zin was Cuvee Jeune aged with Zinfandel grapes, with 7.5% ABV, colored pink from grape skins, a sweeter beer with “tannin bitterness,” to use Rue’s apt words.
Coming up, Tradewinds Tripel is released in May, brewed with Thai basil and rice. Autumn Maple arrives in September, brewed with yams. Last year for Christmas, they released Two Turtledoves. This Christmas, expect Partridge in a Pear Tree. Rue acknowledges that beer brewing started with German methods and hops, yeast, barley and water, but “as long as we’re using ingredients to taste good,” he sees no problem with experimentation.
The approach seems to be working. In 11 months, they’ve gone from owning 70 to 150 barrels and can now produce 4500 – 5000 barrels a year with the recent three-tank expansion. They’ve also started distributing to Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, with plans to add Arizona and Colorado.