Photo by Shane Harms
Brewers, Thor Stoddard (left) and Michael Pfeiffer with Robbings (right) celebrating their national recognition with a pint.

Local brewery recognized nationally

Reuben’s brews places 4th in U.S. Open Beer Championship

Last week, local brew favorite, Reuben’s Brews, found themselves’ among the top ten breweries placing in the 2014 U.S. Open Beer Championship.

Out of three thousand beers from 300 breweries hailing from 20 different countries, the Ballard brewery tied for fourth place in the “Top 10 Breweries 2014” category. Judges ranked beers from 79 different categories. Reuben’s was awarded four medals: bronze for the Dry Irish Stout, silver for the American Brown and Auld Heritage, and gold for the Roggenbier. This year is the second time Reuben’s made a top ten finish in the competition, placing sixth last year.

Among the awarded brewers, Reuben’s Brews was the only Washington brewery to be in the top ten ranks. Placing ahead of Reuben’s was Wormtown Brewery from Worcester, Mass. (First), Stone Brewery from Escondido, Calif. and Deschutes Brewery from Bend, Ore.

Adam Robbings, head brewer and cofounder of Reuben’s Brews, explained that brewers from around the world mail in their samples to judges and then wait with anticipation for the results.

Robbings said, “We were very excited to hear how well we did this year.”

“It’s fantastic to be recognized in such a large competition with so many great breweries. We've won some nice recognition so far, but this is definitely the highlight!”

So what makes Reuben’s brews stand out? Robbings modestly said that it is a combination of the consideration for the ingredients they use for every batch and not being afraid to try something new. The degree of these considerations is nuanced down to brewers manipulating the water chemistry used. Robbings said that things like sulfates and other things in the water can affect how the beer flavor is expressed, and so to take the extra steps and control those variables in the brewing process makes all the difference.

In addition, the quality of Reuben’s Brews is defined by a decision that large-scale brewers over look or ignore because of the added cost.

Yeast, a microscopic eukaryotic microorganism, is a defining agent in the flavor of beer that Reuben’s brewers carefully consider for each batch. If yeast and grain variety were a beer’s genotype, think of the flavor of the beer as the phenotype. Yeast eat the sugar from the grain to make alcohol, which determines how the flavor and consistency of the batch will be expressed with the addition of hops

Many large-scale brewers use and reuse the same yeast for every batch, which limits the nuance of flavor in the beer. Usually the reason for this process is because yeast is expensive and more cost effective to use over and over for different varieties of beer, making a more homogenous flavor. From the beginning, Reuben’s brewers decided that the extra cost of a wide variety of yeasts would be worth it and their beer reflects that decision.

Since they opened in 2012 their beer has been praised with many local, regional and national awards. Among their numerous recent accolades, Reuben’s took gold at the 2014 Washington Beer Awards, and in 2013 were runner up for “Best Small Brewery” in the Washington Beer Awards.

So now that Reuben’s Brews is nationally recognized, will they turn out like the next Red Hook? Robbings said he couldn’t “give a toss” about distributing at that level.

“It feels really good to be nationally recognized. It shows that we are doing something right, but the way we do things is not going to change,” said Robbings.

What makes Reuben’s Brews so special is their attention to detail in relatively small batches. Robbings said that if they start distributing on a large-scale national level they would have to cut back on the practices that make their beer so special. However, the brewery still has aspirations for growth and to distribute more beer on a local level, but their current space at 1406 N.W. 53rd St. is already operating at capacity.

Indeed, Reuben’s has been trying to move to a larger space for the last year but because of high property prices in Ballard, they have not found the right fit.

But with expansion, Reuben’s would like to stay a destination that people need to visit in order to experience the full variety of their beer. Customers tasting the motley of experimental brews Rueben’s amalgamates is what Robbings says is just another component in the brewing process that makes Reuben’s brews stand out.

“To invite people into the brewery where it all happens creates an environment where they can tell us what they think of each beer and that has helped us a lot.”

One thing for sure is that Robbings plans to stay in Ballard and continue his craft that has gained respect and recognition locally and nationally.

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