Land purchase moves Bear Republic toward 'destination brewery'

CLOVERDALE -- A long-term vision to cast Bear Republic Brewing Company's Cloverdale production brewery as a destination for craft beer fans is coming into greater focus, following the purchase of 1.5-acres in adjacent land that the company's CEO said might house a new, visitor-friendly brewery in the next "three-to-five years."

That vision comes in addition to the nearer-term expansion planned at Bear Republic, one that could nearly double production capacity to between 125,000 barrels and 130,000 barrels -- up to four million gallons -- per year, said CEO Richard Norgrove.

It is also another nod to the future for Sonoma County's solidifying reputation as a craft beer hub, one that stands to bolster regional tourism and draw more visitors to the county's northernmost municipality.

"Cloverdale would be a destination spot," said Mr. Norgrove, who frequently casts his family-owned brewery in the context of the city's broader economy. "We want to be a destination brewery."

While still in the preliminary planning stages, a new facility at that site could boost total production to between 250,000 and 300,000 barrels annually, Mr. Norgrove said. That would put capacity in a realm that once only included Lagunitas Brewing Company in the North Bay, which produced 250,000 barrels in 2012 before expanding both locally and in an upcoming Chicago facility.

That growth at Bear Republic would likely come with a 5 percent increase in staff, primarily technical jobs focused on running the high-tech equipment of a modern production brewery, the CEO said. The company currently employs over 130 individuals.

The Norgrove family purchased the vacant parcel on Dec. 30 for $950,000, according to county records. 

Bear Republic also operates a smaller brewery and restaurant in Healdsburg, the location where the company launched in 1995. The current Cloverdale facility is not designed with frequent tours in mind, but those long-term plans are likely to include visitor-friendly accommodations, he said.

A more imminent expansion of Bear Republic's facility at 110 Sandholm Ln. is planned to increase the brewery's footprint to around 40,000 square feet of production and storage space, allowing room for new equipment that will be purchased and brought online in step with an expected 10 percent to 15 percent annual growth in sales, Mr. Norgrove said.  

The CEO did not discuss expected costs, but acknowledged the capital-intensive nature of brewery expansion. A phased approach would allow those equipment purchases to be spread out over the course of expected growth, with the first steps expected in the middle of this year, he said.

Yet early talks with the city of that nearer-term expansion in early 2013 identified one major caveat -- two planned municipal wells would not yet be online, putting strain on plans that include upping Bear Republic's water use to 17.5 million gallons annually by the end of 2016. The company ultimately contributed nearly $500,000 to the city in advanced impact fees as part of an agreement finalized in November, with 600 to 1,000 gallons per minute in new supply expected to come online in July.

"This project was well in development before the drought emergency happened," said Paul Cayler, city manager. "But now, with this water shortage coming along, it brings Bear Republic and the city closer than ever before."

It is not the only water-related expenditure for Bear Republic in recent months. Citing environmental benefits, the company also invested millions in an on-site wastewater treatment system that generates electricity from waste and reduces the load on the city's wastewater treatment plant.

"I think, quite frankly, that businesses in a community need to make an investment in that community," Mr. Norgrove said.

Discussions are ongoing as to the specific nature of the conditional use permit that will allow the nearer-term expansion to go forward, Mr. Cayler said.

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