written by Dave Miniaci
Scott Rudich had hoped his hard work would pay off and his new brewery would explode onto the scene.
That has been the case in more ways than one.
Rudich, the founder and brewmaster of Round Guys Brewing Co., in Lansdale, has seen his company grow and expand in ways he had only hoped, and in just a short time. It was a text from a friend in 2008 that changed the course of Scott’s career.
“We should start a band or open a brewery,” the text said.
‘Well, we can’t play instruments,” Rudich responded.
Rudich, 40, was hooked on the idea. However, he had to figure out where to start. Even his wife, Jen, pointed out he had never done this before. But Rudich got to work, brewing what he could, when he could. He picked up a homebrewer’s kit that first day and expanded from there.
He also took to reading a lot of “non-fiction beer books” as he put it. He estimated in his first year of homebrewing he brewed 150 batches of beer, all of different sizes and temperatures.
“I wanted to take a really scientific approach to it,” he said.
He served his beer to friends and they really enjoyed it. After about two years, he decided to take the “next step” and work his way into a storefront.
A lot of time, money and effort went into building the company, a big investment considering his lack of brewing experience and training. Rudich went to Notre Dame intending to be a doctor, then took classes in biochemistry and graduated with a biology degree. He said the cutthroat nature of the medical field was not for him, and he hit a wall with some of his scientific studies.
“I had a friend who was an upperclassman who once told me, ‘Never let your classes interfere with your education,’ and I took that to heart,” Rudich said. “But I can say I graduated from Notre Dame.”
He found his way to Merck, where he worked for ten years in several capacities. He worked in manufacturing and helped develop vaccines, including those for HPV and Hepatitis-B. He also worked in supply chain management, quality control and industrial engineering.
As one might guess, this background in science did help Rudich understand the finer points of producing beer and running the business.
“Industrial engineering is really cool and it helped me here because it’s how to cost product,” he said. “You see how to price beer or see if you need new equipment and how it would help.”
He also learned about sterilizing the equipment—a key to the brewing process.
As Rudich grew as a business owner and a brewer, he became more confident. And his work ethic—and his beers—left a mark on friends and co-workers.
“I was not a big fan of sours. All my experience with them was not good and it turned me off,” said John Hartman, a partner and brewer at Round Guys. “Scott’s baby, as I call it, is the Berlinerweiss. He told me when I had it I would love it. When we actually did brew the first one, I was shocked that I really did like it. I really commend him for that. To this day, I think the Berlinerweiss is a very good beer and it changed my direction with sours. That was a pinnacle point with us early on working together. It was a neat scenario.”
Amusingly enough, Hartman and his wife also work at Merck, though they didn’t know Rudich until recently. Hartman had heard about a new brewery in Lansdale and went to the storefront to see if they needed help. Months later, he realized Rudich had been his wife’s supervisor.
“We didn’t put two and two together,” Hartman said. “It’s funny how that kind of came full circle.”
Rudich said he would enjoy golfing, but spare time isn’t a luxury he usually has, as he spends much of his time running the brewery. He used to run and has two marathons under his belt, but he decided the running culture wasn’t for him. When you boil it down, he already works at his hobby: beer. He joked his wife spent her time running while he spent his brewing beer in the garage.
“My wife always asked me why I liked to brew on Sundays,” he said. “She is really into running. When she’s running, it’s her church. And with brewing, it’s the same way for me. When I was doing that and brewing in the garage on Sundays, I was very at peace.”
He added his wife has been supportive of the life change, and left him to his “peaceful” work in the garage in those early days.
When a spare moment does arise, Rudich reaches for his phone. He is an avid music lover and frequents Wikipedia to learn more about his favorite bands. He is proud of the fun, useless knowledge he has and gives an example: He can provide one degree of separation between Nirvana and The Go-Go’s. (Nirvana touring member and current Foo Fighters guitarist, Pat Smear, played with Belinda Carlisle of The Go-Go’s in the band the Germs, for those keeping score at home.)
His love for music carries over into Round Guys. Many of the beers are named after songs or bands, such as the “Kiss Off.” Even the name Round Guys comes from the shape of CDs and vinyl records.
As for what he drinks, his favorites are sours. Hartman can obviously attest to that, and Rudich says sours brought him into the craft beer culture.
“I really dig on the Flemish. If I’m in a bottle shop, that’s what I’m looking for. And it’s because beers like that, they require patience,” he said. “I find them really complex and unique.”
There have been hiccups, whether it’s getting a consistent brew or cleaning up after some exploding cans. Rudich said he had friends running the National Homebrew Conference last year and they asked if he would like to make a special beer. A perfect storm of bad breaks followed—hot weather, an over-carbonated batch of beer, bottling and canning too quickly and then the beer sitting out too long after—and the result was some unhappy and freshly soaked customers. He went on a podcast to apologize and explain, and one of the interviewers mentioned a bottle exploded in her face.
“When you have a beer on tap, it’s there and it’s cold. When you bottle and can it, you don’t know where it goes and how long it sits. You lose all quality control but are 100 percent responsible,” he explained. “But lesson learned. I got a lot of publicity for it though. Like 99 percent of it was bad, but it was publicity.”
That incident aside, things are going well for Rudich. More people are noticing his beers, and he has received words of encouragement from several other Philadelphia-area breweries. He has gone from not knowing how to make beer to instructing his employees on how to maintain the equipment and how long to boil the batches.
He knows he hasn’t had the formal training of many other brewers and would like to get more, but that just makes it sweeter when he gets some personal validation.
“I go to all these brewers’ conferences and I kind of know what I’m doing. I don’t have all the training and the certifications, but I see guys who do talk about their methods and I’m like, ‘Oh yeah!’” he said. “There was one presentation I was at and I was texting another brewer and I said, ‘Oh, by the way, we’re doing it the right way.’”