Orange County’s The Bruery celebrated a momentous occasion Monday, brewing its 1,000th batch of beer. As they’ve done with prior landmark releases, they hosted a homebrew competition to determine what the celebratory beer would be. The winner? “BRYEIAN.”
The pitch black, fiercely hoppy ale gets its moniker from (and is pronounced like) its eponymous creators’ names—Bryan and Brian—with an added nod to the flaked rye and malted rye that are included in the recipe.
“We had some really great beers advance to the best in show level at the competition, but we kept coming back to this one,” recalls Bruery CEO Patrick Rue. The Bruery, known largely for its Belgian-influenced beers, seems to almost pride themselves on the fact that they don’t have an IPA in their lineup, so the thought that they were going to brew a black IPA initially posed a challenge. “Stylistically, it wasn’t really a fit for us, but we couldn’t stop tasting it,” Rue continues. “It was the best beer there.”
That said, they’re careful not to call it a black IPA. Mentions of the phrase were quickly silenced and corrected to a less popular term for the style—Cascadian dark ale—so as to keep up appearances. (Matt Olesh, The Bruery’s Director of Retail Operations, brilliantly suggested “Placentian dark ale” as a play on their home town of Placentia, but it sadly got shut down because it sounds kind of disgusting.)
Bryan Keas, 38, and Brian Pramov, 31, are both involved with the Rock Hoppers Brew Club in Castle Rock, Colorado (just outside of Denver) and they were randomly paired together for a homebrew competition back in 2011. The resulting
black IPA Cascadian dark ale went on to win, and they enjoyed it so much, they decided to recreate it in 2012, this time bumping up the ABV a touch and adding rye to the malt bill.
Pramov saw The Bruery’s Batch 1000 competition listed on the American Homebrewers Association website and decided to enter the beer, originally called Night Ryder, on a whim. Not long after, he learned of their win in the same way the rest of us now get our breaking news: social media. “I was in Home Depot, getting equipment for a kegerator I was building, and for whatever reason, I checked Facebook, and there was the announcement from The Bruery. I think I scared a few people because I let out a little scream in the middle of the store. Then I called Bryan.”
Brian and Bryan got flown out to sunny SoCal to brew BRYEIAN on The Bruery’s system, making about 200 barrels’ worth, which will see distribution throughout California and Colorado exclusively come August 12. In addition to the aforementioned rye, the beer is accented by Midnight Wheat and Carafa II malts. “We wanted it to be as dark as possible, but we didn’t want to turn it into a hoppy stout,” Keas explains, “so we went with de-husked grains and added them late in the process to lend a little flavor, lots of color, but not much roastiness.”
And no blac… ahem, Cascadian dark ale would be complete without plenty of Humulus lupulus. “We’re both big hopheads, so there’s a boatload of hops in there,” boasts Keas. “We went with Simcoe and Northern Brewer for their spicy quality, which played well of the spiciness of the rye, and topped it off with Centennial and Cascade.”
To those dreaming of the opportunity to have their homebrew scaled up and made at The Bruery, it may be awhile yet. “Batch 2,000? Maybe in a year and a half or so?” guesses Rue. “I’m not sure when, but we will definitely have more [competitions] in the future. We’re all homebrewers here, and this helps us stay connected with the homebrewing community, which is very important to me.”
Collaboration and camaraderie have become major pillars of the foundation that unite craft brewers, who’ve largely chosen to eschew the inhuman pitfalls of cutthroat competition in favor of genuine bonhomie and mutual respect for each other’s talents and successes. Taking their unified vision one step further, a cadre of craftsmen have recently announced the formation of the Los Angeles Brewers Guild, an industry group which aims “to create and foster a culture of world-class beer in Los Angeles County by promoting and protecting local craft brewers.”
“It’s great for us to be able to rally together, and to have a collective voice,” explains Eagle Rock Brewery co-owner Jeremy Raub, who is serving as the guild’s inaugural president. “It’s so important and so helpful—especially in an area as huge and spread out as L.A.—to know that you have a support network you can turn to.”
While new to L.A., brewers guilds have existed elsewhere for some time now, with an impressive 46 out of 50 states claiming their own statewide guilds, and plenty of regional associations under each of those, according to the Brewers Association. Rumblings of a potential LABG began swirling a little over a year and a half ago. Raub and several other Los Angeles-based brewers attended a meeting of the Orange County-based Southern California Craft Brewers Guild, but respectfully decided to keep the L.A. entity separate.
“Our health codes and government entities are very different,” he acknowledged. “We thought it best to keep it as local as possible, focusing on where we live and work versus spreading ourselves too thin. Opening and operating a brewery in Los Angeles involves keeping an eye on a lot of moving targets, and we want to have the strongest support structure we can have, both for existing breweries and fledgling new ones.”
Besides enabling brewers to have open discussions and share knowledge, the guild hopes to someday host events and festivals to build a stronger community. Reflecting on the local craft beer scene, Raub beams, “We’re in this perfect time in our infancy, and the culture is growing so quickly in L.A. People ask why we’d help our competitors, and it’s great that we’re able to say they’re not our competitors at all. Our market share is so small that there’s enough room for us to grow and flourish together. Like they say: ‘A rising tide lifts all boats.’”
Many restaurants, bars, vendors, suppliers, and even consumers have expressed interest in becoming members or otherwise supporting the guild, but so far, only breweries and brewpubs with facilities in Los Angeles can join. “It’s been great to get so much validation of what we’re doing, but we’re not ready to handle associate members just yet… perhaps in the future,” Raub suggests.
Raub also hopes that in the next quarter, the guild will be able to draw up lots of materials to help its members, with important items such as best practice guidelines, quality control policies, and general tips on staying in compliance and avoiding unnecessary fines. “Things I wish we had access to when starting Eagle Rock Brewery,” he lets on with the slightest of grins.
Moreover, Raub hopes the guild can also act as a catalyst for change. And while the LABG just became official at the end of January, they’ve already found themselves pushing for some solutions to better serve their thirsty customers.
As anyone who owns a handful of growlers from different breweries can attest, the laws regarding refilling them can be tad prohibitive. The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) hath decreed that breweries may only refill growlers from their respective establishments, which must be clearly labeled as such. While I enjoy collecting beer ephemera as much as the next geek, it’s rather easy to quickly amass more growlers than you have room for. Wouldn’t it be easier to have one vessel that you could fill virtually anywhere? (Yes. Yes it would.) At a California Craft Brewers Association workshop in February, a representative from the ABC stunned beer industry attendees when he very plainly announced that it wouldn’t be a problem for a brewery to fill any container so long as it contained approved labeling, even if that was some kind of sticker placed over the existing graphics on another brewery’s growler. A well-meaning industry member in attendance immediately took to Facebook asserting that there’d been some kind of policy change and now people could go to their local brewery with any growler and expect to get it filled.
“It caused a lot of confusion,” Raub laments. “Customers were coming in and getting upset that we wouldn’t fill another brewery’s growler. And we tried to explain that it still wasn’t that easy, but they’d get upset and reference that Facebook post. The guild members got together to discuss what all of this meant—and didn’t mean—for us. Ultimately, we decided that it was too early and presumptuous of us to make any changes without fully understanding what we can legally do. We issued a statement explaining that LABG members wouldn’t fill other breweries’ growlers until we were able to meet with ABC representatives to ensure that we’re in full compliance with their regulations.”
“It really felt good to have us all come together at that meeting,” Raub continues. “Many of the brewers brought up potential issues that others hadn’t thought of, and lots of creative solutions were presented. Being able to unite like this is really going to help brewers and benefit consumers for years to come.”