Mark Ruedrich of North Coast Brewing wins large-brewery award

Co-founder Mark Ruedrich at North Coast Brewing Company's 25th anniversary party on April 9, 2012. (SHARON GARNER)

JEFF QUACKENBUSH,

Hailing from the Mendocino coast, North Coast Brewing in its three decades in business has grown to become the 47th largest craft brewer in the U.S., and recently it has achieved key credentials that back up the environmentally and socially friendly business practices it already has been doing for years.

At the wheel of North Coast Brewing is Mark Ruedrich, 66, who started as a home brewer with a degree in zoology. He started the company with Tom Allen and Doug Moody in 1988 as a brewpub, and production the first year was 400 barrels. The brewery is on track to produce 65,000 barrels this year, which is far beyond the 20,000 barrels expected to be made in the Fort Bragg facility when it opened in 1994.

“We have somehow managed to shoehorn in the next 40,000 barrels through creative engineering and creative design,” Ruedrich said.

The current brewery has a use permit to make 90,000 barrels annually, and the owners are developing plans to allow that to be feasible in the foreseeable future.

“Our business model is a little different from others in the industry, because we do not have a sizable local market,” Ruedrich said. “We started distribution in the first year, because we figured we would not survive unless we expanded the market.”

Though the brewery is so far away from major highways, especially interstates, it has been shipping throughout California since the first year and out of state since the first few years. That expanded to more than 30 states in the first 10 years, and now the brands are available in 47 states. The next focus is to start getting the beers into chain locations.

“Because we’re a national brand, the natural fit for us is to work with chains,” Ruedrich said. This push involves leveraging the network of national distributors already developed. “I anticipate our company seeing another growth spurt in the next five years or so.”

Production increased by one-quarter in the last five years, but output has slowed in recent years.

The baker’s dozen of brands include Red Seal Ale, Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout, Scrimshaw Pilsner, Brother Thelonious and Acme, a label dating back to San Francisco of the 1860s. The brewery acquired rights to the Acme name in 1994.

North Bay Business Journal will be recognizing Ruedrich in the Large Brewery category of the Wine Industry + Spirits & Beer Awards at an event Nov. 28.

The company obtained B Corporation certification two years ago, and 13 brands were recently certified by the Non-GMO Project. The owners became aware of California’s B Corp option through Harvest Market in Fort Bragg, and the brewery qualified on the first try.

“It ends up being a great way to motivate employees and to, sort of, codify all the things we’ve been doing over the years,” Ruedrich said. “It helps us tell our story to customers. … Once you are a B Corp, you are required to exercise discipline in what you are doing.”

One of the environmental ventures is a loose partnership with Fortunate Farm in Casper to take the malted barley byproduct of fermentation to use in making compost. Keying off work by Marin Carbon Project, the brewery, farm and Mendocino County Resource Conservation District are monitoring how application of compost on rangeland moves carbon into the soil as part of efforts to fight climate change.

Jeff Quackenbush (jquackenbush@busjrnl.com, 707-521-4256) covers the wine business and real estate