Editor’s note: This is the second on a series of articles on craft beer micro and nanobreweries of Cuenca. To read the first one about the Hop Factory, click here.
By Stephen Vargha
It was not that long ago that Cuenca was a desert for lovers of craft beer. That has changed recently with new breweries popping up all over town. One must wonder if the clean, clear water from the Cajas Mountains is a factor for the recent growth. It certainly is for Asheville, North Carolina, one of the preeminent craft beer capitals of the United States.
“We only need two filters to purify the water,” Shawn Rathjen of The Pub explains. “The water in Cuenca is so good that more processing of the water is not needed.”
The native of Kailua, Hawaii as well as his Upstate New York partner, Greg Allen, started out originally as a brewing supply store in El Centro, near Plaza de San Francisco. In 2016, it morphed into a neighborhood nanobrewery on Miguel Cordero Dávila, in El Vergel.
The two Americans met because Allen is the brother of Rathjen’s best friend. Their backgrounds are totally different as Rathjen was in the U.S. Navy before underwriting mortgages. Allen was researcher at New York University, focusing on the Ebola virus.
Their American experiences have helped produce at least three dozen different types of beer that are rotated throughout the year.
“I just eyeball my beers while Greg is sciencing the heck out of it,” Rathjen says with a laugh. Unlike most breweries, they use liquid yeast strains from the United States. They inoculate a test tube to make sure they get what they want.
“Most people do not know it, but yeast puts a lot of flavor into beers,” Allen explains. “Dry yeast is used by most people, but we use liquid yeast as we grow it ourselves. It gives us more flavors.”
Those “flavors” include their flagship beers, El Cajas (Pale Ale), Klub Killer (Cream Ale), and Kiltlifter (Scottish Ale). Another of their popular beers is Shakespeare Stout. Allen describes it as a hoppy American stout. “It is not milky,” says Allen.
Rathjen says the goal is to offer beers that will make their customers happy. “We do not sell beer that we don’t like. We have dumped $1,200 of beer before so we make sure that we don’t do the same mistake again.”
Along with the beers, The Pub also has a Hard Seltzer (Chica de Caña).
The brewing facility is out back of The Pub, at Miguel Cordero Davila 1-104 at Francisco Moscoso, not far from the El Vergel shopping center. “It is very rudimentary here,” Rathjen exclaims. “When it rains, we are making mash with umbrellas over our heads.”
The remarkably simple brewing facility produces 400 liters (105 gallons) per week. Apparently, it is enough to keep two flying customers returning frequently to the nanobrewery. “Moe and Pebbles are two fat finches which feed off the husks of our barley that fly off when we process it,” Rathjen explains with a belly laugh.
Southern California native Aaron Markham has been helping produce the beers since September. He had been a customer for two years before being hired last year. “Shawn and Greg are a big attraction. It would not be a great place without them,” Markham said as he stirred the latest batch of mash. In brewing beer, mashing is the process of combining a mix of grains with water, and then heating the mixture. Mashing allows the enzymes in the malt to break down the starch in the grain into sugars to create a malty liquid called wort.
Markham was used to the great craft beers of San Diego County. Those beers led him to The Pub. “After living in SoCal, I was spoiled. So, I came here.” The Pub recently expanded, and they hired one of its most loyal customers.
Richard Morris of Richmond, Virginia is another regular. The retired Amtrak employee has been coming to The Pub for over four years. “I started coming about six months after they opened,” Morris declared. “My girlfriend said that this is a really fun place to be, and I have been here ever since.”
The Pub is more than just beer; it is a social gathering place for many. Along with its beers, The Pub serves food, a necessity for keeping the door open during the Covid pandemic. Recently, they were serving hot dogs with chili as a very authentic tasting Bánh mì-style hot dog. Their tacos on Tuesday are immensely popular, especially their fish tacos. They are remarkably close to what Rubio’s has been serving in southern California for almost four decades.
Morris concurs. “You come here to socialize, not to get drunk. The people who come here are wonderful.”
Many of the people who make The Pub their watering hole are Ecuadorian. Allen estimates that eighty percent of his customers are from this country. He adds that most of them are professionals in their 40s and 50s who enjoy high quality beers.
The Pub’s dozen taps seem to keep everyone satisfied and it is Rathjen’s hope to have their two nitrogen taps online soon, but they need to find gas that is 85 percent nitrogen and 15 percent carbon dioxide. Beer brewed with nitrogen instead of CO2 offers a richer, creamier, smoother experience. The mouthfeel gives one the impression of a beer milkshake.
Until The Pub gets their nitrogen, one can visit them Tuesday through Saturday. It is only open for the evening at 5 p.m., except Saturday when they open at 2 p.m.
Photos by Stephen Vargha