The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the environmental issue of disposing draft beer and challenging the processing capacity of municipal wastewater treatment facilities. In addition, common alternatives including partnering with local farmers and composting operations are currently not viable due to their lack of ability to process at such high volumes. San Diego-based ReBru Spirits, a new employee-owned microdistillery producing small-batch spirits exclusively derived from high-quality, out-of-code and overstock craft beer, is launching its debut portfolio, including ReBru Spirits Gin, Vodka, and limited-edition Sweetcane Peppermint Whiskey in 375 ml and 750 ml bottles.
Opportunity: The quickly growing spirits brand has been buoyed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent restrictions on restaurant and bar operations that have upped the need for disposal of large volumes of draft beer past its recommended shelf life (or simply excess inventory).
Local breweries are able to partner up with ReBru Spirits and send their excess stock, and the team already has relationships with both distributors and breweries all around San Diego. They are not dealing directly with bars due to volume, currently.
Impact: To date, over 180,000 gallons (1.5 MM pints) of out-of-code and overstock beer have been diverted from San Diego’s municipal wastewater treatment, lessening the burden on the facilities and mitigating the potential impact on surrounding ecosystems, including the ocean. ReBru Spirits’ launch portfolio is available for on-premise purchase at its Barrio Logan distillery and online, and is available in eight states including California, Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, Utah, Montana, and Ohio.
ReBru Spirits founder Dennis O’Connor first met success with award-winning Thorn Brewing Co., a brand he co-founded in San Diego in 2012. It’s through his connection with Thorn Brewing Co. that O’Connor became acutely aware of the waste generated by the city’s robust craft brewing industry.
When Thorn Brewing Co. expanded into Barrio Logan’s historic Fraser’s Boiler Service building, or “The Boiler,” in 2017 with a new production facility and second tasting room location, O’Connor and ReBru Spirits Master Distiller, Neil Lotz, spent more than five years perfecting a proprietary process that would transform even San Diego’s world-renowned hop-heavy IPAs into an exceptional craft spirit. Inspired by the transformative endeavor, the 40,000 square-foot building was further built-out to operate as an eco-friendly, multi-concept destination.
Guided by a devotion to sustainability, the brewery, distillery and restaurants work holistically to mitigate the environmental impact of all aspects of operations and production, and coexist symbiotically with the ultimate goal to fully close the loop and achieve zero waste.
“It took years, and a lot of extra effort, to fine-tune the process of utilizing craft beer as our base material for spirits. Craft beer, especially of the hoppy variety, comes with its own unique sets of challenges,” said Dennis O’Connor, founder of ReBru Spirits. “We had to align a lot of details that are meaningful to the big picture of the environment and sustainability, as well as the quality and flavor of the finished product. We were in a unique position to capitalize on the abundance of draught craft beer when the shutdowns happened. From that point on it was ‘go time’. We’ve been cooking beer 24/7 ever since.”
But wait, there is more…
As a part of its mission, the charcoal employed to clarify ReBru’s spirits is sourced from Texas-style BBQ sister restaurant, Sideyard BBQ by HottMess. The spent wash is used to enrich a shared compost for the distillery and restaurant. In addition, the brand’s branding and packaging — designed by co-owner and Creative Director Christine Cole (Modern Times Beer) — was intentionally designed to minimize the use of plastics and non-recyclable and non-renewable materials. A bottle return program, to reuse empty bottles, will launch in the coming months.
Award-winning Master Distiller Neil Lotz, formerly of Desert Distilling, employs the exclusive process (which accounts for the inconsistency of the base-beer) and a German 1,500 liter Kothe still to transform the high-quality overstock and out-of-code beer provided by dozens of local breweries and some of San Diego’s largest distributors, yielding an exceptional spirit that is further enhanced by the beer’s latent hop oils.
ReBru’s initial brand offerings include a small-batch vodka and gin, as well as a special-release seasonal whiskey:
● ReBru Spirits Vodka (80 proof): SRP $28/750 ml $19/375 ml. Tasting notes: Crisp, clean classic-style with melon on the nose and an unexpected rich sweetness with a beautiful buttery mouthfeel (oil essence from local craft IPA hops) that is ultra sippable.
● ReBru Spirits Gin (94 proof): $26/375 ml. Tasting notes: Foundational flavor of a London Dry meets the New American style of citrus-forward flavor with latent coriander and juniper finish. A juicy fullness is imparted via the local craft IPA.
● ReBru Spirits Sweetcane Peppermint Whiskey (110 proof): $25/375 ml Tasting notes: Stone fruit and spearmint on the nose, that carries throughout the palate, with a sweet, buttery finish.
Traditional whiskeys are presently aging in barrels, for future release.