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Craft Beer in North County: Rouleur Brewing is a craft beer tour de force

You don’t need to ride bikes, speak French, or drink Belgian-style beers to enjoy Rouleur Brewing in Carlsbad.

The name of the brewery and most of the names of the individual beers are derived from French terms related to road cycling. Think Tour de France. Though in this case, it is a brewing tour de force.

Rawley Macias (pictured above), sole owner and brewer, says he doesn’t mind how you pronounce “Rouleur.” I grew up in Canada, however, and my exposure to French means that when people say it as “ruler,” it nearly kills me. If a French accent isn’t your strong suit, just make sure you emphasize the second syllable: roo-LER.

Macias himself exemplifies the concept of “un rouleur” (literally, “one who rolls”) from competitive road cycling: a generalist who can step up to do any job his team needs him to do.

Although Rouleur Brewing makes a big impression in North County and in San Diego in general, they are in fact quite a small operation.

Macias does a lot of the work himself. He relies heavily on his three employees: two part-time beertenders and a full-time sales rep. In addition to the brewing, Macias does the marketing, social media, all the cycling and charity events Rouleur puts on and participates in, not to mention taking care of the business side of things.

Needless to say, Macias is eager to add a marketing position and an assistant brewer position soon, so he won’t have to work long hours every day anymore.

The fermenting tanks at Rouleur Brewing in Carlsbad are almost always full. Photo by Bill Vanderburgh

His current profession is a big change from a few years ago, when he was working as a mechanical engineer. Even then, however, he was passionate about home brewing, which he did for 12 years before “turning pro” when Rouleur opened in early 2017.

In the tasting room, the photos and other art are all cycling-themed. The most prominent is a kinetic sculpture made of bicycle wheels and chains.

Rouleur sponsors several local cycling groups: an elite women’s competitive team, a triathlon team, and two local cycling clubs. Rouleur has made such a name in the local cycling community that they are involved in every local cycling event in one way or another.

Rouleur hosts weekly Thursday night group rides that typically involve about 40 riders. On the holiday rides, as many as 250 riders come out. The rides range from 20 to 80 miles in length.

Macias himself didn’t start cycling seriously until he turned 30; he just turned 36 a couple of weeks ago.

The next iteration of Rouleur, which Macias is planning now, will be more generally themed around an active lifestyle. Exactly when the next step will take place is somewhat up in the air. Rouleur’s lease in their current Brewery Ignitor space ends in about half a year.

Before then, Macias and Rouleur will be making some decisions about future directions and timelines. Building another brewery in North County seems likely. Their current space just isn’t big enough to meet demand for their multi-award-winning beers.

In their first nine months, Rouleur produced about 450 barrels of beer. (A barrel contains 248 pints.) In 2018, production increased to 700 barrels; in 2019, they are on track to produce about 1,000 barrels, which is close to maximum capacity in their current configuration.

The fermenting tanks are nearly always full, Macias says, which is why he is installing two new fermenters soon. After that there is no more space in the location, which would mean expanding into nearby warehouse space in the same complex, or looking for new digs altogether.

The advantage of Rouleur’s current location is that it is a Brewery Ignitor, an HG Fenton concept that includes the tasting room and brewing system as well as the space itself. The idea is that a new brewery can move in quickly, do a proof of concept, establish a brand, build a customer base, and then move out within a year or two to establish their own location.

The first Brewery Ignitor opened in Mira Mesa, and is home to Amplified Ale Works and Pure Project. The second Brewery Ignitor, in North Park, is home to Eppig Brewing, Pariah Brewing and JuneShine Hard Kombucha.

While a Brewery Ignitor location helps a brewery get open quickly without having to do a buildout or raise a lot of capital to buy equipment, there are some disadvantages, too. Among these is the fact that the rent is about four times higher than it would be for an empty space.

The locations were designed without input from brewers, so there are various little issues that make things difficult (inadequate drains, cramped systems, insufficient cold storage, and so on). Most problematic, however, is the fact that the brewing systems installed are not big enough, even brewing flat out, to allow breweries to cover rent and other costs while saving up enough to move on to their own spaces.

Rouleur is doing everything they can to grow, though. The two new fermenters, taking advantage of mobile canning services to get their products out to local bottle shops, developing new beers that appeal to hot trends, and making the very best beer that they can. “We don’t release a beer unless we are happy with it,” Macias says.

That last part in particular is working incredibly well. Macias is proud of the fact that brewers at other breweries regularly come by his spot to drink his beer. Another measure of that brewing quality is the fact that Rouleur has been winning a lot of medals in important beer competitions.

In 2018, Rouleur won a bronze at the World Beer Cup — the Olympics of the beer world — for Domestique, a Belgian-style blonde ale. Rouleur won a San Diego International Beer Competition bronze medal in 2018 for Puncheur, a pale ale; that same beer won a Gold at the 2019 Los Angeles International Beer Festival (LAIBF) and another bronze at the 2019 San Diego International Beer Competition (SDIBC).

In total, Rouleur won four medals at the 2019 SDIBC (one gold, two silvers, one bronze), and four awards at the 2019 LAIBF (one gold, one bronze, one bronze for a collaboration beer with next door neighbor Papa Marce’s Cerveceria, plus an honorable mention). That makes Rouleur one of the most-awarded breweries at the two most important California beer competitions of 2019.

Although when Rouleur first opened they had a focus on Belgian-style beers, today only three of their 14 taps are Belgians. The rest are the usual mix for a San Diego brewery — pale ales, IPAs, a stout, and so on. New releases in the last few weeks include a raspberry-lime hard seltzer and a Japanese-style lager called Raida, Japanese for “rider.”

With its combination of skill, passion and discipline, I expect Rouleur to go far.

Feature photo: Rawley Macias, sole owner and brewer of Rouleur Brewing in Carlsbad, with his favorite things: a bike and lots of brew. Photo by Bill Vanderburgh