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The Bruery: What a difference it's made in a year

May 17, 2009 |  3:16 pm

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Most 1-year-olds are just starting to walk. But after just one year, the Bruery is running full speed ahead. Tucked inside a nondescript business park just off the 57 Freeway in Placentia, one of the most innovative breweries going today celebrated its first birthday Saturday with about 400 of its closest friends.

Among those friends was Dave Chudnow, president of a group of L.A.-area Belgian-beer fanatics called the Drunk Monks, who made this bold proclamation: “The best beer in the world is made in Belgium – and by him, the brewer here.”

That brewer is Patrick Rue, a 28-year-old law school graduate who chose worts over torts.

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In between greeting well-wishers, pouring celebratory tastings of his anniversary ale (a stern but fair 14.5% alcohol Belgian Old Ale-style dubbed Papier) and helping man the taps, Rue, above, ducked into his office for a brief chat while his yellow lab, named – what else? – Barley, investigated his visitor’s pants legs.

Rue began home brewing when he started law school six years ago. When he decided to start the Bruery (a conflation of his surname and “brewery”), he asked himself a simple question: “Which beer can I kind of screw up and have it taste OK?” He ended up with what was dubbed Batch No. 1 – Levud’s (Duvel spelled backward). That one-time-only batch, which was on tap Saturday, won a bronze medal in the 2008 Los Angeles International Beer Competition. One of his year-round brews, the witbier White Orchard, was named as one of Draft Magazine’s top 25 beers last year. “I’ve been surprised we’ve been able to build a reputation on our mainstay beers,” Rue said. “I thought it would be our special beers.” 

Bruery1anniversary 003 There were 18 beer styles, plus an off-menu mead, available for 4- or 2-ounce (depending on potency) tastings Saturday. The sprightly special draft Humulus Blonde, at right, with its slight tang and peach-fuzz feel on the tongue, tastes of citrus plus a slight touch of mango. The Blonde’s light feel was appreciated by Scott Fox of Everett, Wash., in the area to visit relatives, who noted, “You can drink more of that one.” The happy-go-lucky Hottenroth Berliner Weisse (named in memory of Rue’s grandparents), though only 3.1% alcohol, is not unlike Champagne on the palate.

Walking from the Main Bar to the four-beer Sour Bar, the hot topic was White Zin, which blends the Bruery’s Cuvee Jeune lambic with a blonde ale fermented with Zinfandel grapes) to make a brownish-pink-colored sweet-and-sour, rambunctious white wine-like beer (imagine the soft side of your favorite curmudgeon).

Several attendees, including Fox, said the creation was unlike anything they’d tasted before. O.C. local Christopher Lee, who was at the Bruery’s first tasting (held before it opened), has tried the White Bruery1anniversary 009 Zin, at left, several times as it’s aged and says the taste has evolved each time. He applauds the “step into the wine world from the beer world.”  Jan Heagy, visiting from Texas, also adored the “completely unique” White Zin. “Coming from Houston, we like to have things that are light and refreshing.” Heagy was at the party with her brother Bruce Bastian of Port Townsend, Wash., who had first read about the Bruery in the home-brewing magazine Zymurgy the night before. He called Rue to inquire about tasting some beers and was invited to the bash. A home brewer who makes several hundred gallons per year and is familiar with the Pacific Northwest’s craft beer scene, Bastian said the Bruery is “way up there” with the breweries of his region. “These guys hit the mark,” he said. “I’m amazed what they’ve done in a year – it’s phenomenal.”

That sentiment was echoed by many, including Ian Akerson, a beer buyer for BevMo! who lives in Aliso Viejo. “I’ve been to Stone, been to Lost Abbey, and they’re doing great stuff, but what Patrick does is unique.” He said that Bruery beers and their unusual flavor agents (including lavender and chamomile) – “Who else is making beer with basil?” he asked -- return their drinkers to “the same warm feeling you had as a kid with these flavors.” (Well, OK, it’s probably not the exact same warm feeling.) “It’s like being a little kid again.” That’s probably not far off, given the playground-like atmosphere of boos and jeers at the few attendees who shattered their tasting glasses.

Matt Becker of Dana Point, a beer enthusiast writing about each beer in a small notebook, said: “It’s really impressive how, instead of being like most brewers and saying, ‘I’ve got to brew an amber, I’ve got to brew an IPA,’ they do what they want to do…. Beers others wait years to do, they dive right in.”

There was also food from Beachwood BBQ. Attendees got one food ticket, which sadly meant only two fried pickles. Those darlings, made using the Bruery’s White Orchard, might be worth a road trip to the Seal Beach restaurant. There were also smokey, medium spicy wings made with Humulus Blonde, as well as fried green tomatoes and sliders (choice of pork and chicken) with a variety of sauces.

Desserts were from the Bruery and included a Belgian liege waffle and chocolate-covered bacon. Three artisanal cheeses were on offer -- Taleggio Gut’antico, Beemster XO and Ossau-Iraty – and were powerful enough to give the first few beer tastings afterward distinct cheese notes.

Bruery1anniversary 021 With a successful first year seen off in high fashion, the Bruery now looks to the future. Now in eight states, it hopes to have its brews in 15 to 20 within a year and then grow within those markets for a while. And in the name of spreading its beer culture, it opened a home-brewing supplies store, Bruery Provisions, just this month. “Everything we use here, we sell there, plus more,” Rue said. (After all, as the Bruery’s website declares, "We strive to use unconventional ingredients, and we will proudly state what we put in our beers.”)

Drunk Monk Vice President Klint McKay, who drove down from Lake Balboa, clearly wants the Bruery to see more anniversaries: “You want places like this to survive, and that’s why we came down. I don’t care if Miller goes out of business or not. I care if this guy goes out of business.”

The Bruery is at 715 Dunn Way in Placentia. Bruery Provisions is a few doors down in the business park at 723 Dunn Way. The tasting room is open Fridays and Saturdays from 4  to 10 p.m. and Sundays from noon till 6 p.m. The store is open Sundays through Thursdays from noon until 6 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from noon until 8 p.m.

-- Blake Hennon

Photos: Blake Hennon / Los Angeles Times