A few years back, there was a repeating bit of news that became almost familiar. A large or popular West Coast–based brewery was going to open an East Coast facility. This was done at a time when craft’s popularity was soaring, an infusion of cash from all corners made big moves possible, and it was a chance for some of the more celebrated breweries to expand a business.
Some, such as Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., were successful. Others, such as Green Flash Brewing Co., were not. And others, such as The Deschutes Brewery, which opened a tasting room in Roanoke, Virginia, but hasn’t yet broken ground on an eventual brewery, were somewhat successful.
It makes sense on paper for the breweries to have a mirror location across the country. Faster access to markets with fresher beer should mean a stronger business overall. But there’s enormous overhead involved, and when it comes to making specialty beers, barrel-aged rarities, spontaneously fermented beers, or any recipe that takes time and attention to detail, replicating the process can be daunting if not almost impossible.
That’s why when The Bruery announced an expansion to the nation’s capital in August 2017, it was a pleasant surprise and break from the regular press-release script to read that the venture would be a bottle shop, not a brewery.
“The Bruery Store at Union Market District will provide easy access for Society members to pick up online purchases, along with onsite bottle and can sales, merchandise, gifts, and potentially eight rotating taps for growler/crowler fills for Society members and the general public,” the release said at the time. (The Hoarders Society, Preservation Society, and Reserve Society are paid-membership bottle clubs operated by the brewery.)
“The idea came up in a 2012 strategy meeting,” says Bruery Founder Patrick Rue. “My dad brought it up, and I said, ‘That’ll be a headache. Pass.’ ”
At the time the company was too small to execute such a plan, but by 2016, it made sense. Many of their Society members lived on the East Coast. Washington, D.C., was becoming a more exciting beer market, bringing in a lot of tourists and beer fans who could now get access to beers that were previously available only in California. Washington, D.C., makes sense for a lot of reasons, and one of the most important is beer distribution–friendly laws. So why not add a brewing system? Even a small one?
“We have plenty of capacity in California,” explains Rue, “and we’ve put a lot of money into our infrastructure. It would be almost impossible to replicate some of our beers on the East Coast, so we didn’t want to do that. We can achieve our goal of getting the beer to people in an easy way, and it’s cheaper than the millions of dollars we’d have to put into a brewery that may or may not make great beers.”
The Bruery spent five months looking for the right space, hampered by a hot real-estate market and limited industrial space. They found “an up-and-coming” area that is seeing an influx of new businesses and condo construction. When they found the right spot, Rue says they pounced before the opportunity faded.
Doors officially opened in January 2018, and the 5,000-square-foot space in the Union Market District has become a destination not only for members of the Societies but also for curious drinkers who can leave with a variety of beers from The Bruery, Bruery Terreux, and Offshoot Beer Co. Yes, there’s merchandise, too.
Currently, The Bruery is using only 2,000 square feet of the leased space, and Rue says they are looking for a partner to fill the rest. “Maybe it’s a beer-focused restaurant or a beer bar or whatever. Perhaps it’s a tasting room, like a pop-up store for a few brands that aren’t on the East Coast. We’re working on it.”
While there have been other breweries in the country that have talked about a satellite location, there are very few that follow The Bruery’s D.C. model. Since it’s different from a typical bottle shop, one of the biggest challenges in Rue’s mind was staffing.
He wanted to make sure that whoever headed the product was knowledgeable not only about beer but also about his company and found the right candidate in a former brewer, Ethen Adams, who had lived and worked in California but had since moved back home to the Washington, D.C., area.
“We needed someone we could trust, who knows us, and that we know,” he says. “We couldn’t have done it otherwise.”