The first of four guest industry interviews by brewers and brewery owners of their contemporaries. Look for a new chapter each week this December.
By Josh Pfriem –
pFriem and Reuben’s both opened in August of 2012. During the very busy first year or two of pFriem, I kept hearing good things about Reuben’s up in Seattle. Folks would often let me know how awesome their beer was, how they make tons of different styles, and that Adam is a family guy. When Adam and I finally meet, it was clear that he had a excellent vision for beer, business, and that he is a great person. As the years have gone by we have enjoyed a relationship encompassed by chatting about new beers on the horizon, business wins/struggles, and being an information sounding board to each other. It has been exciting for me to watch Adam, Grace, and Mike grow their brewery while they continue to make wonderful and exciting beer!
Josh Pfriem: What are you drinking the most of right now? What are you excited about?
Adam Robbings: Right now I’m all about lagers, like most brewers it seems! We’re adding more lagers to our release schedule next year.
JP: What’s currently happening in the Seattle beer scene right now? What is popular? How do you think it is different from the Portland scene?
AR: We’re seeing some consistency, in terms of popular beer styles, this year versus last. Hazy IPAs are continuing to be popular. Barrel aged beers, while a lot smaller in terms volumes, as popular too. Barrel aged sours are a niche for sure, and lagers are growing slowly. In terms of differences between Seattle and Portland, food is a key difference. Far more breweries have food options in Portland – it’s very rare up in Seattle to have a newer brewery with food. But I think beer styles are very similar.
JP: Hard Seltzers- There is a lot of talk around these at the moment. Do you love, hate or are neutral on them? Do you drink them? Would you ever brew one?
AR: I’ve only had a taste of a hard seltzer – they’re not great. Non-alc seltzers are fine, fizzy water has always been great and they make it more interesting. But for me, hard seltzers aren’t great. There are traits to seltzers that people are liking. Lower carbs, lower calories, less sugar… But seltzers themselves aren’t the long term solution to this I think. I think there will be another wave of innovation that’s a better solution to people’s needs, more flavorful, more craft.
JP: Hazy Hop forward beers- You guys have really grabbed a hold of this style and seems like you are making a lot of beer in this realm (I had a really nice one from you guys yesterday). Where do you think this style will go? Will it take over other styles in the Pacific Northwest, will it live harmoniously next to clear IPA, or will it just add more to Craft Beer?
AR: I think hazies are here to stay for sure. They add something unique and distinct to craft beer – hop forward, soft, approachable… They help expand the beer category, they can be a gateway beer to craft, which right now is a good thing! I think they will live in harmony with West Coast IPA.
JP: What is your go-to beverage when you having fun outside of the beer industry? i.e. weekend, vacations, holidays.
AR: My day always has to start with a coffee, after all we are in the Pacific Northwest! Then a few cups of tea, like a true Brit. After that, it could be beer, water, seltzer water (NOT hard seltzers!!) or whatever. But I’m a creature of habit in the morning at least.
JP: Innovation and being relevant are very important parts of being a successful brewery today. How do you do this as time goes on?
AR: Innovation has to be in your core, it’s that important. The first brewer we hired after Mike and I was an experimental brewer. We have Thor on our team who’s job is to focus on all the one off beers, unusal tests etc. Innovation is at our heart, so we just have to make sure growth doesn’t get in the way of it!
JP: Historically, you guys do really well at beer competitions. What is your ethos for beer competitions, what drives you, what do the medals mean for you and your business?
AR: When I was a homebrewer, competitions were a way to get unbiased feedback from people. Giving friends free beer as a homebrewer tended to get pretty biased feedback – everything was good! So I just continued that feedback loop after Reuben’s opened. I value the feedback from competitions – we take that into the feedback loop and use it to iterate future recipe adjustments and ideas.
JP: Huge congrats on your new production facility! What is your favorite thing that you can do now, that you weren’t able to do before, and why?
AR: Brewing different styles, breadth of beers, is so key to us as a brewery. And it sounds strange to say, but having the larger production facility has allowed us to brew more small batch beers. It takes the pressure off our other two breweries by brewing more of our flagships, allowing them to brew more diverse styles. In fact, the same week we added some 100BBL fermenters we also added two new 7BBL fermenters for our original 5BBL brewhouse! And those 7BBL fermenters haven’t been left empty since.
JP: Distribution: Its fun seeing Reuben’s beer in Oregon, do you guys have further distribution plans? What does growth look like for Reuben’s in this very saturated and competitive market place?
AR: We’re a Pacific Northwest brewery, that’s our focus. We cover most of Washington, Oregon and Northern Idaho so there’s not too much more geography to cover. We want to keep it local and fresh. Now, we do ship small amounts of beer to other areas – like the UK for example. My parents have to be able to get our beer! But those are exceptions to the rule.
JP: Family Business: You are a brewmaster and an owner along side of your wife and brother law. You have your own family to care for. You are running and growing three breweries. How do you manage all this and continue to grow volume, quality, with lifestyle and personal time?
AR: Honestly, lifestyle and personal time haven’t been a thing for me for most of our brewerys life. I’m working on improving that though – and have managed to spend more time with our boys and grace these last 6 months, and I’m excited to do that more.
JP: Wow, you guys are about to celebrate 8 year of business, congratulations! It has been quite the journey so far! What are some of your highs, lows, and horizons when you look at the history and future of Reuben’s?
AR: I liken opening a brewery to riding a rollercoaster – you get big highs, and massive lows. It’s a crazy ride! From unblocking toilets, to picking up GABF medals, you end up doing things you never imagined you would. As for the future, we’re building our organization – getting a more sustainable team to lead us into the future. I want to brew more – and not have to deal with the paperwork as much. And there’s lots of new beers we want to brew!
More about Adam Robbings: Since moving from the UK in 2004, Adam was blown away by the diversity and quality of the brews in the Pacific Northwest. As a home brewer, Adam and Grace poured their beer at the 2010 PNA Winter Beer Taste and won First Place in the People’s Choice. Then the brewing bug took over and Adam continued to hone his craft and he won several more awards, including a Silver Medal at the 2012 National Homebrew Competition, and attended UC Davis. This all led to the desire to share his brews with more people and the opening of Reuben’s Brews in August 2012.
Josh Pfriem is the co-founder and Brewmaster of pFriem Family Brewers in Hood River. Founded in 2012 pFriem is focused on Belgian inspired and Pacific Northwest beers. Josh Pfriem is a veteran of the beer industry with stints at Full Sail and Chuckanut Brewery before founding pFriem.