In its 138 years, Rainier Beer has established itself as an icon of the Pacific Northwest. Since 2012, Reuben’s Brews, in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, has quickly emerged as a craft master, winning awards around the world. Now a special collaboration between the two brands gives beer geeks another reason to say “cheers.”
As part of Seattle Beer Week, Rainier and Reuben’s are releasing a limited batch of r&R Pils. Billed as a Northwest take on a traditional German-style pilsner, the beer is meant to combine Rainier’s lager expertise with Reuben’s hop-forward styles. And it’s the first time Rainier has ever teamed up with another brewer to produce a product.
So, on a quiet Tuesday after lunch, I was forced to leave my desk, head 4 minutes north, get a taste of the new beer and chat with those involved in making it happen.
Michael Scott, the “big R” brand manager for Rainier, and Adam Robbings, the “little r” co-founder and head brewer at Reuben’s, first started talking about a collaboration about two years ago, when Scott lived in the neighborhood and would drop by for a pint.
“I’ve been a fan of Reuben’s since they opened,” Scott said. “I was sitting here one day … little r, big R … there’s definitely something there! We should do something together. Doing something with somebody that actually has brewed craft, where Rainier hadn’t, seemed like the logical step to kind of go to school.”
The beer was developed at Reuben’s brewery on 14th Ave NW and was scaled and brewed at the Redhook Brewery in Woodinville, Wash. It’s the same brewery Rainier used to produce Pale Mountain Ale last year — it’s first new beer in 20 years.
“We want to hold true to both of our core beliefs, or what we’ve done before,” said Robbings, a UK native who moved to the Northwest in 2004. “For Rainier customers, it’s not a total curveball to them, and to us it’s not a total curveball. It’s a nice meld.”
Watching the giant brewery (Rainier is owned by Pabst Brewing Co.) team up with the little guy is a study in understanding the benefits that each side gets out of the effort. Rainier is a much-loved, long-established brand whose white and red R cans are a fixture across the region. The massive rise in popularity of craft brewers, especially in Seattle, has Reuben’s and others getting a taste of the market share.
“We know how to make a LOT of lager, we don’t know how to do something like this, so we kind of had to sit down and follow the leader,” Scott said.
“For us, it’s humbling to be asked by an iconic brewery to do something like this,” Robbings said, adding that as a practitioner of British brewing techniques it was a great chance to learn Rainier’s German brewing style.
As for the specifications on r&R Pils, it’s malts are U.S. pilsner, German pilsner and Rye. Hops are Hallertau Tradition, Cashmere, Galaxy and Azacca. The ABV is 6 percent, and r&R Pils will be available on draft, in 12-ounce six packs and in 22-ounce bottles throughout Washington and Oregon beginning in May.
Scott said there will be just 3,000 cases of the larger bottles, and when it comes to the barrels for bars and restaurants, “It’s going fast.”
Reuben’s will host a launch party on May 10 as part of Seattle Beer Week. Seattle band Deep Sea Diver is slated to perform.