“That’s not just remarkable,” observes Arthur. “You have to have great beer, you have a niche for the beer―the types of beer they’re making requires a market much like our Abbey beers―you’ve got to get the beer onto a truck and send it to those places where those beers can work. We’re in many of those same markets for the same reasons: these are great places to sell beer.”
Both brewers decided from the outset their businesses would not rely on low-margin, high-volume sales. But the farther they departed from that classic model of mass-marketed beer sales, the more thoughtful they had to be about how to present their beer to just the right audience.
Rue came into brewing through the self-described homebrewer-beer-geek route, finishing a law degree in the process. “The reason I went to law school was so I wouldn’t have to get a conventional job for a few years and I could delay the inevitable,” he recalls. “I finally got my family’s support for opening the brewery after bugging the crap out of them for a few years. I convinced them that this is what I was destined to do. My dad asked me ‘Do you really want to be poor? You might be happy, but do you want to be poor?’ I said, ‘I don’t need to be poor.’”
Arthur concurs with the idea that a commitment to the art of brewing doesn’t have to condemn the brewery to penury. “My answer would be ‘I plan to be rich and happy!’ Seriously, I don’t think you have to be poor in this business. There are opportunities to be small and niche-y and still make money, to follow what it is you really want to do.”
He cites the breweries that opened in the 1980s, and the changes that have come with each successive wave of brewers to enter the profession.
“If the first generation was Fritz [Maytag] and New Albion, the Widmer Brothers―guys with 25 years of brewing who started making beer that was different from light lagers―then the second includes guys like Adam [Avery] and Rob [Tod, of Allagash], who’ve been brewing beer for over 15 years. They looked to Europe, recreated a lot of traditional styles and kind of regionalized them. You can debate where people like Vinnie [Cilurzo] and myself fall. The third generation are taking it one step further, and trying to make it American.
Rue’s beers, “loosely in the Belgian tradition,” place him squared in the third wave, with innovative flavorings that depart from the norm. “We brew three year-round beers: Orchard White, which is a wit beer with lavender; Black Orchard, what we call a black wit beer, which has chamomile in it; and Saison Rue, which is an eight and a half percent saison with rye and bottled with Brettanomyces, so it gets funky with age.”
Arthur identifies “flavor-driven brewing” as the hallmark of the new generation, and credits Belgian inspiration. “To me, that’s what our third wave is about: we’re starting to see a lot of imperializing, a lot of oak-aging, oxidizing microorganisms for flavor-gain in the beer.
“I don’t like esoteric beers that are being brewed just for the sake of being esoteric,” he continues. “The challenge is not to go too far out there: I agree with Patrick’s point of brewing beers that are approachable. There are opportunities to use non-traditional base ingredients, but to do it in such a way that doesn’t scream ‘Hey, look at what we did just to be different.’ It’s a tenuous line to walk.