As the magical time to brew Batch 1000 approaches, we're profiling some of our very own
First up is one of our longtime employees turned brewers, Rich Ruelle. He's been with us since 2009 and held basically every role you can imagine at The Bruery (well, almost every role. Calm your imagination down). Now a homebrewer for a decade, Rich's recent concoctions include the damned delicious, summer-friendly Humulus Palm, which you may have had the pleasure of enjoying in our Tasting Room during May.
When did you start homebrewing?
I made my first batch of homebrew in 2003 after my brother gave me a Mr. Beer kit as a gift. I only made two batches of beer with it before it was destroyed in a house fire. I began brewing again in 2006 and served my first extract homebrew (an American stout) at a Halloween party that year.
What was the kick in the butt that got you interested in homebrewing?
I was interested in homebrewing, but lacked the most expensive piece to get started again - a nice, big stock pot. A friend of mine who homebrewed at the time bought me one as a wedding gift in 2006, basically daring me to resume homebrewing now that I had one. I accepted the challenge. I wonder if I would have ever started down this path if he hadn't done that.
How did you transition into working as a professional brewer?
I felt uninspired in my engineering job at a medical products company so in December of 2011, with The Bruery expanding, I decided to pursue a full time job in the brewhouse and brewing as a career choice.
I had been working for The Bruery at the original homebrew provisions, I'd also worked labeling bottles in the warehouse, at the tasting room, and at The Bruery Provisions in Old Town Orange.
During that time, I had become more passionate and better at homebrewing and occasionally brought some of my brews in to share. I had showed interest in working at The Bruery full time so when a cellarman position opened up in late 2011, it was offered to me and I took it. A few months later, we expanded our brewing to a 24-hour operation and went from two to four brewers. I was offered, and accepted one of the new brewer positions.
What's in your carboy right now?
Right now I have a 3-year old sour wild ale and five gallons of a recent bitter milk red ale in secondary waiting for some sort of treatment (dry hops, cocoa nibs, etc...). I have five gallons of the same bitter milk red, a small licorice stout, an imperial stout, and a smoked berlinerweisse on tap. I plan on brewing a rye IPA in the next week or two.
For the past couple of years, I've tended to go three to four months without brewing and then brew four to five times in a month. After that, my kegerator is filled and I don’t need to brew again for a while. I usually make sure the kegerator is full of good homebrew if I have family coming for a visit or friends coming for a party.
What was your biggest disaster?
My biggest brewing disaster at home has to do with personal injury more than a wasted batch of beer. On one occasion, I turned on the cold water to start cooling my wort through my immersion chiller. I hadn’t secured the end of the hot water out hose and the hose started flailing wildly shooting out near boiling water. I was hit with that water across my chest and torso. The pain lasted for days and the burns took months to heal.
On a professional scale, I haven’t been a part of any big disasters. I have been a part of some really stuck mashes that took a real long time to lauter. I have also encountered some very stubborn barrels that did not want to be racked due to leaking or solids in the barrel. In both cases, the process eventually worked out and no significant product was wasted.
Do you have a, "Whoa, it was super cool this one time this thing happened!" moment you can share?
The one thing I remember the most is when my wife and I split a 10 gallon batch of Belgian pale ale. She decided to add serrano peppers to her five gallons. I said that it sounded gross. It actually turned out quite spectacular.
What advice do you have for a new homebrewer?
Join a homebrew club. It will shorten your learning curve to have a group of experienced homebrewers to ask questions and learn from. Also, don't get discouraged if you make a few bad batches. If you take good notes on everything you do, someone can probably help you figure out where the mistakes were made and you can avoid repeating them.