ReBru Spirits, founded in 2020, is already one of San Diego County’s ultimate champions for recycling, local sourcing and repurposing.
The micro distillery in Barrio Logan collects excess beer from major distributors that would otherwise need to be disposed of, takes it through a proprietary distilling process, and turns the excess beer into different types of craft spirits – most notably vodka, gin, whiskey and absinthe.
A leader in sustainability efforts, its founder and North Park native Dennis O’Connor hopes ReBru can set a path for others to follow.
“This business is in a really unique space,” O’Connor said. “It has elements of efficiency and sustainability. And I think that with scalability you should be able to do this in any major city, because any major city has unsold beer.”
Breweries and those distributing their products are usually challenged in ridding themselves of overstock, unsold and outdated beer. In California and many other states, it’s illegal to dump the beer because of the damage to the waterways and the stress it would add to wastewater management programs. It is also costly to hire outside contractors to take it off site.
ReBru partners with local businesses like Stone Brewing, Ballast Point Brewing and Modern Times Beer to take their unwanted or unneeded products and give it a second chance at life. It even had a limited run of white rum made from BoochCraft Hard Kombucha.
“If it’s got alcohol in it, we can distill it and extract it and make what we make,” O’Connor said.
One of ReBru Director of Operations Kerin Sovern’s favorite ReBru collaborations thus far has been with Baja Brewing out of Tijuana.
“We brought two truckloads of their expired stuff, had the brewers come up from Mexico and they got to be part of putting in the barrels.”
ReBru typically gets two to four truckloads of beer every week, at no cost from the breweries and distributors it works with.
Performing a Service
O’Connor says that his business is actually doing a service in taking the unsold beer and reworking it into bottles of craft spirits. ReBru saves distributors $2,000 to $2,500 per truckload by taking their excess product, he said. The partnership includes the companies picking up their empty kegs once ReBru is finished with them.
“To date we’re over 600,000 gallons of processed unsold craft beer,” O’Connor said. “We’ve saved and upcycled more than half a million gallons, processing it and turning it into award-winning spirits.”
O’Connor said that majority of what ReBru’s distillers have created is not out for public consumption yet, and that the monetary value of what ReBru has stored “is equivalent to about $1.575 million or more in whiskey aging in barrels.”
O’Connor, who also owns a sports bar and restaurant in Old Town called Home & Away, playfully dubs ReBru his “Willy Wonka alcohol factory.” He said ReBru has become a passion project for him, mostly centered around its sustainability efforts.
“I think it’s the most sustainable alcohol brand there is,” he said. “There’s a lot of ‘2 percent to the planet’ businesses out there but if they’re buying from China and Mexico and bringing in hops and grains from the Pacific Northwest and New Zealand, is that sustainable? We’re literally using local sources and local products, and that’s as sustainable as it gets.”
ReBru spirits have won more than 10 local, national and international awards at festivals, challenges and competitions. While the drinks are currently only being sold at ReBru and online, O’Connor and his team are scouring communities looking to get their products sold in bars across the county.
A tax preparer by day, O’Connor, was a co-founder of Thorn Brewing Co. in 2012. Thorn expanded out from its North Park digs in 2017 to Barrio Logan following O’Connor’s $3.5 million purchase of the site.
Building the area into what he calls “the acre of awesome,” the now 40,000-square foot megasite includes Thorn and its tasting room, ReBru Spirits, a BBQ restaurant, bar, hidden away speakeasy inside ReBru, two outdoor event areas and one indoor event area.
Sovern said that ReBru is consistently booked for private events. ReBru has held music festivals with nearly 1,000 attendees, fundraisers, weddings, art shows and monthly dog-themed events, she added.
The company recently launched its California Whiskey and next is rolling out an item called Longball, which O’Connor calls “a John Daly on steroids,” referring to the mixed drink made of lemonade, iced tea and vodka named after professional golfer John Daly.
O’Connor said the combined annual revenue at the “acre of awesome” is more than $5 million, and for ReBru alone, about $1 million. He added that he is open to future opportunities and welcomes “anyone interested in the sustainable spirit space” to get in touch with him. “I would love to grow this beyond this spot,” he said.
FOUNDER: Dennis O’Connor
HEADQUARTERS: Barrio Logan
BUSINESS: Distillery, restaurant, speak easy, live music and private event venue
SOCIAL IMPACT: O’Connor says his business “may be the most sustainable process of an alcohol brand in existence – saving the ocean from drinking unsold craft beer.”
NOTABLE: ReBru has won local, national and international awards for its spirits.