Grace and Adam Robbings have spent the last six years making some of Seattles best beer.
Grace and Adam Robbings have spent the last six years making some of Seattle's best beer. Lester Black

There's never enough Reuben's Beer.

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s The Nutcracker is Back Onstage at McCaw Hall! Tickets start at $27.
Join PNB for a timeless tale of holiday adventure performed by PNB’s amazing dancers and orchestra.

That’s the one consistent theme in Grace and Adam Robbings journey from being Seattle homebrewers to their latest venture, a new brewery in a barrel-roofed warehouse with big glass windows looking out onto 8th Avenue. At every step in their six-year history, they've had people asking for more beer. When the barley starts mashing next month Reuben's will have one of Ballard’s largest breweries and expand the company's fermenting capacity by 25 percent. I have a feeling they won’t have any trouble selling all of that beer.

I sat down with Grace and Adam in their new brewery's taproom, a bar cut into the corner of the warehouse. The space is filled with benches of wood reclaimed from the historic building and has large windows looking into the production brewery. They plan on having the brewery running next month but the new taproom won't be open until at least February. Grace said after years of real estate hunting and over a year of construction in their space, it's hard to believe that it's finally going to be open.

"It’s like yes it’s happening but there’s still a long way to go," Grace said. "It’s exciting, the space is so beautiful I fell in love with this building right away. It has so much character."

Reuben's has distinguished themselves from Ballard's crowded pack of breweries with a constantly rotating list of well-made beers. At last count they had won over 200 awards in their six-year life, including winning best International IPA at the country's largest competition, the Great American Beer Festival (more on that beer, the Triumvirate, in a minute).

Winning awards is actually how the brewery first got its start. Local bars started begging the Robbings for their beer after the couple won a local homebrewing competition. When they gave in and went professional they hedged their bets by renting a tiny space so that if they failed it could serve as a playroom for their son, the brewery’s namesake.

“We found a space that if it all went horribly wrong we could just let Reuben ride his bike around till the lease was up and we wouldn’t lose our house and everything,” Adam said. “So we found a size that was kind of safe but within six months we were totally strained.”

After two years in that tiny space, they expanded into their current brewery and taproom on 14th, a constantly crowded taproom that makes more room for brewing equipment than the people (and babies) that drink there. It didn't take long for them to outgrow this space.

“When we got it we knew it was slightly on the small side but… within five weeks of opening that brewery we were at our five-year production estimate,” Adam said.

To keep up with demand, they held onto their first taproom and leased a second small facility, forcing Adam, Grace, and their 21 other employees to shuffle grains and wort between three different locations. They are still holding onto their other properties during this expansion, but by moving most of their production into one facility they will be able to avoid the burdensome task of making beer between multiple facilities. The new space will become the company's production brewery, cranking out the brewery’s mainstays that you see in supermarkets around town, and then use the other three spaces to experiment with smaller batches.

You can find the tropical Triumvirate IPA at Reubens taproom or at Brouwers Cafe in Fremont.
You can find the tropical Triumvirate IPA at Reuben's taproom or at Brouwer's Cafe in Fremont. Lester Black

Adam made it clear that despite the bigger brewery, they wouldn't lose sight of making the best beer possible.

"When you get too big you become more focused on production efficiencies, like 'this is the house malt we have to use that, this is the house yeast'… and we will never be doing that because that’s a path towards homogenization," Adam said.

“The beauty of this space is it will allow us to do the beers in volume that we need to do but it then frees up the other brewhouses to do more experimental stuff," Adam said. "This year we have already brewed 120 different styles of beer and that to me is not enough. There is still a load of things on my list that we haven’t been able to get to.”

At this point in our conversation, Grace interjected, "Adam’s eyes light up with the thought of being able to play on a 5, a 15, and a 30 barrel [brewing] system. There are different things that you would want to do on each of those systems so it does just open lots of doors."

Reuben's is known for this constant churn of different beers. Even when their taproom's line is long I still usually don't know what I want when I get to the bar. This kind of constantly rotating beers makes it hard to fully understand what their brewery is like, so I asked Adam and Grace what three beers they would recommend to a first-time customer to their brewery.

“Two to three tasting flights,” Grace said without skipping a beat, followed by a laugh.

I pushed back—but really, what three beers tell the story of Reueben's Brews? Adam took over and started to name some styles, their Porter, their Pilsner, Grace interjected to put in their Gose and then mention their Roggenbier, Adam added the American Brown to the list and then had to mention their Marzen. That left us with six beers and they hadn’t said an IPA yet, so Grace threw in two IPAs, their Crikey and their Crush, plus their new soon-to-be-released hazy IPA, Hazilicious.

Support The Stranger

I asked for two or three beers and they gave me nine. But I can do better than Adam and Grace, I don’t even need a third beer. Want to understand Reuben’s Brews? Go grab a six pack of their blue Pilsner cans. It’s a wonderful version of a light lager, a very difficult beer to make in large quantities. Their Pilsner tells us that this Reuben's is a technically strong brewery that can brew difficult beers on a large production scale.

Then go get their Triumvirate IPA. This crisp IPA has notes of passionfruit and citrus and won gold at the Great American Beer Festival in 2017. Winning the best IPA at the country’s largest and most respected beer festival is a massive honor, it put Reuben’s on the national scale and I think it may have played a role in getting Reuben’s to where they are today. You can find this award-winning beer on tap at their taproom and at Fremont's Brouwer's Cafe, where it's the iconic beer bar's house IPA.

After drinking these two beers you’ll understand that this Ballard brewery makes amazing beer, which is the most important thing to know about Reuben's.