There are hundreds of hard-working brewing professionals giving their all to help maintain the storied reputation San Diego’s brewing scene has earned over the past several decades. Some have risen to great fame among industry pros and craft-beer enthusiasts. Some ply their trade in obscurity (and are more than happy to do so). Some are Instagram famous, trendsetters with cult followings that would rival social-media influencers. And while they share plenty of similarities, each is their own unique person with their own likes, dislikes, methods, techniques, inspirations, interests and philosophies. The goal of San Diego Beer News‘ Portrait of a Brewer series is to not only introduce you to local brewers, but to have some fun delving into the aforementioned areas so you can get to know them a little better and appreciate them and their contributions to the county’s standout brewing culture. All that plus stellar portraits from brewery lifestyle photographer extraordinaire Matt Furman.
Today’s featured brewer is…
of Rouleur Brewing
What is your current title?
CEO and Founding Brewer
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Burbank, but bounced around Southern California during my childhood to Palmdale, North Hollywood, Toluca Lake and Newhall. In high school, I relocated from Southern California to the Central Coast, including Goleta and Ventura. Eventually, I was accepted to California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo where I received a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering. From there, I worked in the aerospace industry, and married my wife. We went on to buy our first home and have our first son. In 2015, my family and I relocated to San Diego County where I continued my career in the aerospace industry before launching Rouleur Brewing in 2017.
What brought you to San Diego?
When my family and I moved here in 2015, I started a new job working for General Atomics in Poway. So, I guess you can say that my career brought me to San Diego, however, I think knowing that I wanted to eventually launch a brewery is what really drew me here. I knew that, if and when I decided to change career paths to professional brewing, I would want to do so in San Diego County where craft beer was alive and well.
What was the first beer and/or alcoholic beverage you ever had?
This is embarrassing but it’s the truth…lol. The first alcoholic drink I ever had was a Mike’s Hard Lemonade. From there, I graduated to crappy beers like Bud Light and Miller Lite because it’s what my dad drank. It wasn’t until having a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale that I discovered the world of flavorful and aromatic craft beer.
What was your a-ha moment that turned you on to craft beer?
As mentioned above, my first true craft beer was a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in the classic stubby 12-ounce bottle. I was visiting my dad in Newhall and went into the refrigerator to get a beer. I saw the typical beers he usually had (Bud Light, Miller Light, Heineken), but also saw a single Sierra Nevada Pale Ale bottle on the shelf. I asked him what it was and he said something to the effect of, “I don’t know. We had a party the other week and someone brought it.” I decided to give it a try and was immediately fascinated by its flavors, aromas and mouthfeel.
What led you to consider a career in brewing?
I started homebrewing back in 2005 and quickly moved from extract to all-grain brewing, eventually designing my own semi-automated half-barrel homebrew machine that I named “The Ale Engine.” At the time, I was working around 60 hours a week as a lead engineer for Lockheed Martin. The aerospace industry can be very demanding at times, and after a decade in the industry I started to reach the end of my rope. I started considering a life where I worked for myself, whether it be in aerospace or something entirely different. Eventually, I started considering opening a brewery and slowly assembled my business plan. Finally, after years of planning, I quit my job and the beautiful paycheck, benefits and security that accompanied it, and launched Rouleur in early-2017, right after the birth of our second son, Levi Stout.
Where did you first apply for a brewing job and where did you get your first brewing/brewery position?
You might find it surprising, but the first “professional” beer I ever brewed was at Rouleur. I have never worked at or even interned at another brewing company and did not receive any formal education in the craft.
Who have been the individuals that have helped you the most to learn and advance in your career, and how?
In mid-2017, not long after launching Rouleur, I met Tomme Arther of The Lost Abbey/Port Brewing. We initially connected because Rouleur was offering contract-brewing services and Tomme needed some small-batch beers brewed. I’d say we connected almost immediately due to our passions for beer and cycling. Tomme has been incredibly helpful even since. We often meet to discuss business strategy, issues we are facing, brewing techniques, cycling-nerd stuff, etc. I have learned a lot from Tomme and value his friendship and help.
What singular piece of advice would you give to someone interested in becoming a professional brewer?
Ugh….this question makes me think of the countless books and articles I read when I was considering launching my own brand. The one piece of advice that I continued to read over and over was to “launch with more money and access to capital than you think you’ll need.” Those words rang true and I 100% percent agree with them. Launching and operating a brewing is extremely capital intensive and requires significant reserves to weather any storms. Since launching in 2017, Rouleur has experienced times where we were flying high with healthy amounts of capital reserves in the bank and times where I was losing sleep wondering if I was going to be able to pay our next payroll cycle. It’s been a huge rollercoaster and many of those sleepless nights would have been alleviated with reliable access to capital. Related to this is deciding whether or not you will try to secure partners and investors. I launched Rouleur as a single owner with no partners or co-founders. I borrowed money from my father-in-law and the Small Business Administration. In hindsight, I think launching with partners and investors is a safer path and can help spread the workload and inject cash when needed.
What ultimate career goal would you like to achieve?
I can honestly say that, at this time, I simply don’t know. I would love to continue to own, operate and grow Rouleur, but to what size I don’t know. Operating a business as a single owner is incredibly demanding and I am starting to feel the effects of the stress. I think I may be reaching the max bandwidth a single owner can handle. Rouleur currently consists of three locations and, at our peak, employed 25 people. Burnout is a real thing and a business in Rouleur’s position is still akin to a young child…requiring constant nurturing and attention. All of this is occurring while our industry is undergoing significant change, increasing the time needed even more. I would love to see Rouleur thrive but maybe in a different manner. I have considered taking on partners who can help manage and grow the business and have even considered selling it to a group that can take what my team and I have built and move it onward and upward to the next level.
What is your favorite beer you’ve ever brewed, be it on a professional or amateur level?
This is like having to choose your favorite child…ha! I’d say one of the beers I’m most fond of is our Bonkeur Mosaic Pale, which I introduced in 2018. It’s a 5.5% ABV (alcohol-by-volume) American pale ale hopped solely with Mosaic hops. It was the first all-Mosaic pale ale that I had seen. Now there are several versions made by local breweries. It’s a terrific beer that is adorned with multiple medals including a gold at the 2021 Great American Beer Festival. It’s a brewer’s beer and I am very proud of it.
What is your least-favorite beer you’ve ever brewed on any level?
I once tried to brew a “winter” spiced beer as a homebrewer. I started with a brown ale base and decided to add fresh ginger to the boil. After fermenting, I gave it a try and almost puked. It was absolutely horrible. That was the first batch of beer that I ever dumped.
What are your favorite and least-favorite hop varietals at present?
I’ve always loved Mosaic…yes, it’s a “cheater” hop, but for good reason. I’ve also been rekindling my love for Simcoe lately. Truthfully, I’m not a huge fan of Nelson Sauvin. I just don’t see what people get out of it.
If you weren’t a brewer, what do you think you would do for a living?
Well, before being a brewer I was a mechanical engineer in aerospace. I imagine that I’d go back to engineering, but not necessarily in that industry.
In your opinion, what non-brewing position is of great importance at a craft-beer company but often gets overlooked or less credit than those making the beer?
Is quality assurance considered brewing…ha. Without a doubt, QA is often overlooked and is incredibly important in my eyes.
What is your favorite beer style?
American pale ale
If you could wipe one style of beer off the face of the Earth, what would it be?
Pastry stouts. There is only one way to enjoy them…crack it open and throw it over your shoulder into the trash. I’m also not a fan of milkshake IPAs or any beer that has pumpkin in it. Sorry, not sorry.
What single brewing company’s beers and/or ethos/style has been most influential on your style?
I have gleaned bits and pieces from so many breweries that it is impossible for me to sort and list.
What is your favorite San Diego County brewing company (yes, you have to choose one)?
I don’t have one. I love many of them.
What are your favorite brewing companies outside of San Diego?
Sierra Nevada and Orval
What three breweries that you haven’t yet visited—local or elsewhere—are on your current must-see bucket list?
I’d love to visit the Orval Brewery in Belgium, which I might be doing this May for my fortieth birthday. I’d also enjoy visiting Sierra Nevada in Mills River, North Carolina. I’ve visited the Chico location several times and love it.
What are your favorite local beer events?
My two favorite beer events no longer take place: Collabapalooza in North Park and Rhythm and Brews in Vista.
If you were to leave San Diego, where would be the next-best place you’d want to brew?
I envision that one day, I might find myself living in San Luis Obispo again.
Which musical genre or artists are on your brew-day soundtrack/playlist?
Oh geez, many members of my staff joke that my musical preferences have no pattern. Sometimes it’s classic rock, sometimes it’s electronic/trance, rap, alternative. I’ve even blasted Bach while brewing.
What motto rules the way you brew and approach brewing in a professional brewhouse?
Brewing is like baking, not cooking. In cooking, many of the flavors are developed on the fly. A pinch of this, a dash of that, etc. Note-taking and measuring are often thrown to the wayside in exchange for touch and feel. Brewing, however, is like baking. Measuring, note-taking, and developing and following a procedure is a must. At Rouleur, we are geeks and have SOPs (standard operating procedures) for everything, and we take measurements and notes on everything…you never know, a mistake might actually turn out to yield something better then you had and you would never be able to reproduce it if you weren’t religious about note-taking.
When you’re not at work, what do you like to do for fun?
I have two young boys that I love to hang out with, along with my wife, Alissa. Besides family, I love to ride bicycles (duh) and work on my car. I am currently performing a ground-up restoration of a 1971 Datsun 240Z.
What do you like to drink other than craft beer?
Besides craft beer brewed by Rouleur or others, I do love me some gin and tonics and Coors Banquets.
What is your favorite beer-and-food pairing of all time?
One of the best beer-pairings I had was at Rouleur’s two-year anniversary dinner where we brought in chef Tyson Blake to do his magic. At the time, Rouleur had a small-batch radler-beer on tap that used our saison blended with fresh white grapefruit juice. Tyson paired it with hamachi crudo, burnt grapefruit, pepita, grapefruit supremes, pickled mustard seed and cilantro.
Who do you think you are (a purposely broad question)?
I’m a nerd.
If you’re a brewer at a San Diego brewing company and would like to be featured in our Portrait of a Brewer series, drop us a line at [email protected].