Commentary

Shaffer: Durham brewery celebrates 7 years of Rufus the sudsy specter

jshaffer@newsobserver.comMarch 16, 2014 

— For the past seven years, Rufus the beer ghost has unleashed the kind of antics you’d expect from a phantom haunting a brewery: knocking darts off the dartboard, shutting off an iPod, clanking around the kettles full of ale.

The staff at Triangle Brewing Co. embrace him as a mascot rather than a curse, considering he’s enjoying the happiest and most beer-soaked afterlife any specter ever had.

They’ve slapped him on T-shirts and fliers. They’ve filled a growler full of ground-up chicken bones and displayed them in their Main Street tasting room, calling them Rufus’ remains. And whenever his ghostly dander gets up, they pour a glass down the drain.

For Rufus.

“He’s our patron saint,” said Rick Tufts, 40, the brewery’s co-owner. “We built him a pine coffin. At festivals, you can pour six beers out of it.”

Nobody knows Rufus’ real story: his age, his hair color, his hopes, his dreams. Not even his real name. As a ghost, he stalks the brewery in search of some companion, an ear to hear his troubles, much like beer drinkers with warm blood still flowing in their veins.

In February 2007, when Triangle Brewing Co. was setting up inside an old brick warehouse on Pearl Street, its owners sent some contractors down into the musty and seldom-used basement.

Over in a dark corner, they found a trash bag partially buried in the clay floor. Opening it, they discovered the bag contained only bones and teeth, and that whoever stuffed Rufus in had tied the bag from the outside.

“We’re pretty sure he didn’t tie it himself,” said co-owner Andy Miller, 41. “That’s pretty much a brewery tour joke.”

Owners have theories

Police had no clues, and the case remains unsolved. Miller and Tufts guess that Rufus’ mysterious interment could date as far back as the invention of plastic garbage bags, first developed in 1950. This uncertainty gave them freedom to elaborate.

“His story was ours to create,” the pair explain on Triangle’s website. “After a few beers, with creativity and psychic abilities at its apex, we decided his name was Rufus.”

The brewery building on Pearl Street once housed a chicken processing plant, which fuels Rufus’ death scenario. Perhaps he got an arm caught in a de-boning machine or leaned his head too close to a plucker. Maybe nobody wanted OSHA sniffing around, and maybe somebody had a Glad bag handy – 3-ply for heavy loads.

“It could be Jimmy Hoffa,” Tufts guessed.

But however this spirit met his unfortunate end, he lives on in Triangle Brewing’s series of special brews: the Rufus Reserve.

The tribute started with a double-red imperial amber – “In Latin,” Tufts explained, “Rufus means red.” – and continues now with a dunkelweizen, brown and appropriately murky.

Guinness has its toucan. Schlitz has its bull. Triangle Brewing has Rufus, the restless apparition who makes a good barmate until he gets unsteady and starts knocking things over, at which point they just tuck him back into his earthy bed and let him sleep it off eternally.

jshaffer@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4818

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