Brewing beer proved more enticing than practicing law for Patrick Rue, founder of California’s The Bruery. Upon graduating from law school, the award-winning homebrewer chose to jump into the (then) risky business of brewing. To make matters even more difficult, he chose to focus on 750ml bottles of Belgian-style beers rather than packaging formats or styles more familiar to American beer drinkers.
But time, and a growing sophistication in American beer drinkers, worked in his favor, and today The Bruery is known for creative and boundary-pushing beers primarily aged in wine and spirits barrels. Some of their most well-respected and highly-rated beer never makes it to store shelves, sold instead through their three-tiered society program (modeled on similar programs pioneered by wineries), but that hasn’t stopped their barrel-aged imperial stouts such as Black Tuesday, Gray Monday, and Chocolate Rain from winning awards and drawing huge crowds at the rare-beer festivals where they’re served.
So what beers does Rue, the eighth certified Master Cicerone, grab when he’s not drinking one of his own? Here’s the six pack he assembled.
Hitachino Nest White Ale, Kiuchi Brewery, Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan
I came across this beer when I started homebrewing, and it was a revelation to me. It has the perfect proportion of spicing where the nutmeg and coriander have an impact on flavor but not to the point where the spices are identifiable. Lightly acidic, creamy with citrus notes, this is one of those perfect beers. A fantastic Belgian-style wit brewed in Japan gave me the confidence that great Belgian-style beers could be brewed anywhere, maybe even Orange County, California.
Duvel, Duvel Moortgat Brewery, Breendonk, Belgium
Duvel is the ultimate hangover beer. After a hard night (which I try to avoid), where I struggle to drink even a glass of water, Duvel will bring me back to life. Dry, effervescent, complex yet simple, this is a classic beer that piqued my interest in Belgian beer.
Gouden Carolus Cuvee van de Keizer Blauw, Brouwerij Het Anker, Mechelen, Belgium
There are so many great Belgian strong dark ales out there, it’s really hard to choose among them. Cuvee Van de Keizer from Brouwerij Het Anker is one that my wife, Rachel, and I love to drink together. Dried figs, licorice, brown sugar, a hint of citrus—it’s damn good. After years of drinking this fantastic beer, I visited this historic brewery and gained even more respect for it.
Red’s Rye IPA, Founders Brewing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan
I always seek out this beer when I travel, as it’s not (yet) distributed in Southern California. I love dry, spicy, hoppy red ales—they’re much more interesting to me than IPAs. The subtle roast and rye spice balanced with citrusy and pine-like hops are a perfect combo for me. Modern Times Blazing World has filled this hole for me as a local offering with similar qualities; I’d love to try them side by side and see which one I prefer.
Oude Geuze, Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen, Beersel, Belgium
This beer perfectly captures the place it’s made, the tiny town of Beersel—they’re both old, quaint, charming, a bit funky, and hard to find. It has notes of hay, leather, apricot, cellar must, and leafy, spicy hops in the background. I’d drink this every day if I could.
Schlenkerla Urbock, Schlenkerla, Bamberg, Germany
To my palate, smoked beers can be really amazing or really terrible. Schlenkerla falls on the amazing side of things—the smoke gives a savory, smoked-sausage sort of quality. All of their beers are amazing, but Urbock is my favorite. It has the perfect level of maltiness to carry the smoked flavors. When I think of an ideal brewery, I think of Schlenkerla. They know who they are today and who they want to be in 100 years. I love their commitment to smoked beer, to being a small family brewery. Sometimes I wish I had that level of restraint and focus.