By Brian Skaggs
Come in and have a seat.
This may be one of our most genuine breweries out there: its brewer/co-founder—moonlighting as an EMT/high school batting practice pitcher/graphic designer—who has been solely responsible for their very cool labels all this time; the bar manager who’s been there for 21 years who harasses you for your Dodgers or Cubs cap yet envelopes you in a bear hug on your way out; and the wildly expansive taplist brewed using solar energy and innovative water handling.
There’s a lot more going on at Sonoma County, California’s BEAR REPUBLIC BREWING COMPANY’s two brewpubs than their flagship Racer 5.
- CEO/Founding Brewmaster Richard Gerald Norgrove V [Rich]
- Chairman of the Board/Founder/former CEO Richard Bradley Norgrove IV [Senior]
- Lead Bar/Bar Manager Ryan Lindecker [Ryan]
They graciously explained, and illuminated, to me many of the transitions they have navigated throughout the past 23 years—in addition to suggesting where one of the greatest family-driven breweries in the United States is headed in the next 23.
Pigeons, Old Style and Bikes: The Norgroves pre-BRBC, 1988-1996
“I decided I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing my hobby. That was 1992. After a couple years of doing my hobby, I had turned my hobby into a job. I wasn’t enjoying it. My wife [Sandy] said, ‘I don’t care if you become a greeter at Walmart or Costco or pump gas, just get the hell out of the house!”
As the eighties ended, Senior was—in his own words—a bum. It’s difficult to reconcile someone working in vacuum deposition of thin film coatings to change the absorption and reflection of light through a specific medium such as space shuttle windows as being a ‘bum,’ but, in his opinion, being a Business Unit Manager after twenty years in corporate America couldn’t have been a better description.
Like all of us working stiffs, Senior dreamed of making his favorite hobby his profession. Unlike most of us working stiffs, he quit his well-paying job in vapor deposition, molecular beams, and thicknesses in nanometers to follow his dream.
He started racing pigeons full time.
Then—like what almost always happens to the very, very few of us working stiffs who quit their dull jobs to pursue their exciting hobby—racing pigeons quickly became a job. Senior transitioned from BUM to bum.
“I swear to God, he brainwashed me as a kid when he would be doing his pigeon racing. We would drive and he would talk about how much money he made for the companies he worked for… someday he really wanted to open his own business.”
As the eighties ended, Rich possibly felt like a bit of a bum as well. He was in the process of failing out of Sacramento State, Senior had cut him off, and his girlfriend Tami had broken up with him. Far into debt and with serious doubts about how he could finish college, Rich joined the Army Reserve.
Fortunately, Rich and Tami reconciled and got married just before Operation Desert Shield began. He was immediately stationed at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin, where he outprocessed soldiers for the escalating conflict in Kuwait. The G. Heileman brewery, located about forty miles west of Fort McCoy in the lovely riverfront city of LaCrosse, would (at the time) allow servicemen and servicewomen in uniform to drink for free. As one of the few married Reservists, Rich would sit and read at G. Heileman as his compatriots “rabble-roused around La Crosse.” Rich also befriended a brewer who would let him do a “busman’s holiday’ for four weekends in a row; he let me hang out and brew with him.” Aside from homebrewing experimentations at Sac State with fraternity brothers, the (former) home of Old Style was Rich’s first exposure to commercial brewing.
When he returned to Northern California after his two years of active duty in 1992, Rich started working as a graphic artist at Petaluma’s Salsa Cycles. At the same time, with Tami having graduated from UC Davis and friends having moved away from home, this self-described ‘lost soul’ also went headlong into homebrewing. “Ross Shafer, the owner of Salsa, was really awesome at letting me try to be a welder… he would let me moonlight at the shop, and I started building homebrew kits for Byron Burch and Nancy Vineyard of [Santa Rosa’s] The Beverage People,” Rich remembers, adding with a chuckle that a ‘garage welder’ like him could work up stainless steel tanks or race cars, but his skills were a long way from the intricate, artistic welds on bicycle tubing.
Tami made quite a few visits to The Beverage People as well, picking up grain and hops after Rich. who, in-between real work designing logos and designs for Salsa and constructing brewing tanks, was faxing them recipes. Rich was soon ‘promoted’ to handlebar and quick release production manager, although he was still a graphic artist at heart. That said, a lot of his design work was key to Salsa, beginning around this time, selling more logoed hats and t-shirts than bike parts. This shift in marketing and approach in the cycling industry fostered another transition in the way Rich thought about his future.
“Alright, I need to do my own business. Senior really helped me put my thoughts together how I would go about getting involved in the beer industry… yet you have to realize that back in 1993-94 there wasn’t a system in place like there is today.”
– Rich, on his decision to start a brewery
Senior and Rich, after casually tossing around business ideas like fancy coffee and a pedicab company in Santa Rosa, decided to pragmatically pursue this brewing idea. “Making homebrew is one thing,” Senior wisely told Rich,”‘but doing it commercially is something else. Get some brewing experience and, in the meantime, let’s do our typical due diligence” with trade shows, beer magazines, and West Coast brewpub visits. Not that there were many of any of those things in the early-mid ‘90s, with the Siebel Institute in Chicago and the brewer certificate program at UC Davis being the only options for traditional brewing education.
Through connections at The Beverage People, Rich interviewed with Tony Magee (at the time still running Lagunitas Brewing in the actual Marin County hamlet of Lagunitas), Fritz Maytag at Anchor, and Anchor’s longtime brewer Mark Carpenter, who set him up with Marin Brewing’s Brendan Moylan. Rich, along with future Lagunitas/Bear Republic brewer Paddy Giffen, opened Moylan’s in Novato after about eighteen months of unpaid volunteer brewing in 1995. After briefly trying to convince Moylan to pay him, Rich and Senior decided this was the time to go into business for themselves, and they applied to the county for restaurant/brewery permits. Initially, Sonoma County officials wrote the Norgroves off a bit, because they believed—as Senior recalls—”We’re more of a wine area. We don’t think beer will really take off.” Oops!
Cub Republic: BRBC Beginnings, 1996-2001
Nevertheless, they found a place to rent using, as Senior described, “creative financing and personal debt.” In addition, because both Rich and Senior were in the armed forces (Senior is a Vietnam veteran), they co-applied for, and received, a small business loan from the VA for about half a million dollars. Although Rich was the only full-time employee at the start—Senior was trying to buy another company, Tami was an environmental engineer, and Sandy was working for a non-profit—all four principals were regularly working one hundred-hour weeks between May 1995 and January 1996 as Bear Republic readied to open. Tami, with her microbiology background, was crucial in implementing good chemistry practices in the fledgling brewhouse.
Their brewery/restaurant, one of the first five hundred licensed in the United States, would be located just off the square of a quaint, sleepy, off-the-map Northern Sonoma County hamlet called Healdsburg.
“There were more brewpubs going out of business than going into business [in 1996]… they got lucky in this little shitkicking town that was halfway boarded up.”
[Hahaha! That sure is a funny quote about turn-of-the-century Healdsburg! Let’s find a couple more!]
“Healdsburg seemed so far away, but I could be thinking of Ukiah.”
– Amy van der von d’Piotterieux (not her real name), about driving to Healdsburg with her Sonoma Valley High School swim team in the early 90s
“Healdsburg was a pretty raw area at the time—when I grew up in the town of Sonoma, I remember one year when we beat Healdsburg High School for the [track and field] championship. Someone threw a javelin through the driver’s side window of the bus—that’s how raw it was! Healdsburg was a community that had been declining for a while simply because Highway 101 had bypassed it, and it was just starting to recover.”
[aside: It’s tough to reconcile the bucolic, haute couture, fine-dining epicenter 2019 Healdsburg with these lawless, backwater, no-horse town representations of Healdsburg one score and three-to-seven years ago… so let’s hear from Rich:]
“Healdsburg has turned into some posh little gem.”
[That’s more like it.]
Senior believed that Rich’s beer would be profitable right away. His vision was that the new brewery’s product would act as marketing for the restaurant when Bear Republic opened in January 1996. In fact, the opposite proved true—Healdsburgers flocked to the new restaurant in town, yet it took a little while (not long, perhaps a year) for the beer to catch on. While Rich constantly brewed using the fifteen-barrel brewhouse located behind the bar during the first two years, Senior was also incredibly busy. “I was pretty much THE salesman for the company,” he said. “Not only was I the salesman—I was the delivery guy, I was the collections guy, I was the clean-the-lines guy.” On a fateful April Saturday in 1998, he was also acting as a front-of-house guy when one of the main long-time public faces of Bear Republic walked into the brewpub.
“I’m a rain-or-shine guy, buddy!”
1998 was a tough year for the U.S. craft brewing industry. This was especially true for a former one hundred fifty-five-pound bouncer and Best of Sonoma County bartender named Ryan Lindecker. His employer for the previous four years, Santa Rosa Brewing Company, was closing, partially due to the fact that neighbor Third Street Brewing Company (established at almost the exact same time as Bear Republic, in late 1995) started happy hour half-an-hour earlier than SRBC… with fifty cent cheaper pints.
Aspiring screenwriters, take note: when Bear Republic: The Movie gets greenlit, what follows should be the end of Act 1.
Scene Thirteen: A fateful rainy Saturday afternoon in April 1998 (there were a LOT of those in 1998). Interior. Bar. Man behind bar. Man behind bar is sad.
Phone rings. Sad man behind bar answers the Santa Rosa Brewing Company phone.
Sad man, sadly: Santa Rosa Brewing Company, this is Ryan.
Voice on phone: I hear an ugly rumor that Santa Rosa Brewing Company is going out of business?
Ryan, more sadly: Yep, chain on the door on Monday.
Voice on phone: Is this the same Ryan that won the bartender of the year award in Sonoma County?
Ryan, even more sadly: I don’t know how good of a bartender I am if we’re closing up… but yeah, this is Ryan.
Voice on phone: You’ve served me a couple times. This is Richard Norgrove Senior, president of Bear Republic, and I’d like to interview you. Are you interested in bartending still?
Ryan, infinitely more sadly: Yeah, I guess. I dunno.
Senior: When do you get off?
Senior: Off at five? Okay, I’ll see you at six.
Ryan, melancholily gazing out the window watching it absolutely dump rain: Well, I’m coaching Little League.
Senior, incredulously: Well, it’s raining– how do you have practice?!
[Because Ryan is a rain-or-shine kind of guy, that’s how!]
Scene Fourteen: Interior of 1989 Geo Tracker. Ryan is driving. Wet baseballs, wet glove, fungo bat on passenger seat. Focus on windshield with wipers on high speed, unable to keep up with sideways rain. Pan to gas gauge, at ¼.
[Older members of audience will certainly chuckle here, as they recall their mid- to late-80s car with the gas gauge that never ever ever moved from ¼.]
Pan to Ryan, driving.
Ryan, confused, to himself: How far away IS Healdsburg, anyway?
[Audience chuckles again, as they are fully aware that venturing the twenty-six point seven km from urban, genteel, luxurious downtown 1998 Santa Rosa northwest to rural, lawless, no-horse 1998 Healdsburg would take at least fifty minutes. Every single road in and around 1998 Healdsburg was single-lane gravel, as you know from the above quotes.]
Ryan turns into gas station at Fourth Street and Farmers Lane, Santa Rosa, and starts pumping gas.
Static camera shot of gas nozzle with Ryan running inside to get a soda. While Ryan is inside, gas starts flying out of the tank inlet as the vent fails. Ryan comes running to shut off the nozzle. Gas spews all over him.
Ryan, wallowing in infinite sadness, muttering to himself: I’m drenched to the bone, I’m slightly muddy, I smell like gas, but [sighs dramatically] I told this guy I was going up there.
Scene Fifteen: Interior, Bear Republic Brewing Company. It’s bright, welcoming, friendly, bicycle frames on the ceiling and Salsa Cycles jerseys on the walls. Ryan opens one of the double doors and hesitantly approaches the woman at the podium.
Sandy Norgrove: So… how many in your party?
Ryan, embarrassedly watching a single drop of water slowly grow huge and fall off of the brim of his Santa Rosa ALL baseball hat: Uh… I’m here for Richard Norgrove Senior?
Sandy: Oh. Well, you must be Ryan!
Sandy quickly turns to a man sitting at the front table, busy polishing silverware.
Sandy: RICHARD! Ryan’s here!
Ryan’s still here. Tuesday through Saturday afternoons. Twenty-one years later. He thinks he got the job partially because his great-uncle Florian Dauenhauer built a hop harvester just off of Eastside Road in 1936, and probably more because he “smelled like gas, was wet to the bone… and was on time.”
Inspiration and Experimentation: Brewing and Bottling, 2001-2006
“The barrel room was built in 2001… it was really time for Bear to [poop] or get off the pot. Are we gonna grow or are we just gonna be a small, little, local pub? But we just had too many good products.”
Bear Republic’s early years were, in opposition to the greater microbrewery world around them, quite successful. Red Rocket, Rich’s first commercial beer designed as “a Scottish red ale hopped like an IPA,” was brewed for his brother Ron’s wedding and was awarded a silver at the Great American Beer Festival in 1998 and 1999 (and received the coveted highest score awarded at the time in Celebrator Beer News (RIP)).
Racer 5 IPA, perhaps the most-awarded IPA at GABF, inauspiciously started as a one-off IPA Rich would make every fiftieth batch of beer with the same malt bill and different hops. These special beers were simply called ‘Five-Zero’ at the brewpub. After twice the hops called for in the recipe accidentally found their way into the fermenter as a dry hop addition during a ‘Five-Zero’ brew in 1999, the iconic Racer 5, initially named Springtime Strong Ale, was born.
Bear Republic’s four principals decided to expand their brewpub-only operation to a more serious commercial brewery in 2001 by bottling beer. Rich, who from the founding of Bear Republic to the day you’re reading this has been responsible for ALL of the car racing-centered brewery label and logo art—can any other brewmaster in the world say that?!—now had to design more labels around the quirks of California Alcoholic Beverage Control.
They moved bottling and some brewing into a new building across the courtyard from the brewpub. Currently a barrel room for their (criminally under-the-radar) wood-aged program in 2019, the 2001 next-door expansion allowed Bear Republic to approach a practically unheard-of 17,500 barrels per year on the three beers per day brewed at the brewpub during the week (plus two on Saturday).
Some of these early Healdsburg beers—conceived and brewed before Bear Republic would have been old enough to enroll in kindergarten—were pioneers of style, taste, and perfection, and are still brewed today:
- Heritage (Scottish Wee Heavy, brewed in the early days in honor of the Norgrove’s Scottish heritage)
- Hop Rod Rye (Eighteen percent rye IPA; rye beers were rarely if ever seen in 2001)
- Big Bear Black (defines ‘American stout’: high ABV, aggressively hopped, all malt/no coffee or barrels)
- Olde Scoutter’s (defines ‘American barleywine’ in a similar manner to Big Bear Black).
Sadly, there are a few early Bear Republic beers that aren’t produced any more, like XP Pale, a lower-alcohol English-American hybrid pale ale, Stickball Alt, the best example I have ever tasted of the viciously bitter, not-at-all floral amber ale style that originated in Düsseldorf, and—most personally lamented—Wine Country Wheat, Bear Republic’s utterly amazing true-to-style hefeweizen that tasted better than almost any German counterpart. Senior and Ryan dismissively waved away any discussion of Wine Country Wheat returning to the draft list—whether that is because great hefeweizens are notoriously complicated to brew, or because only six people ever drank it, we’ll probably never know.
Expansion, Environmentalism and Altruism: Drought and Determination, 2006-2017
“We were at the precipice, saying, ‘Hey, do I take a full-time fireman’s job and just do the brewpub, or do we go out and build the bigger brewery?’ So that was the big push. I was like, ‘Dad, if we’re going to do this, we need to go big or go home.’’
After realizing, after ten years of business, that their Healdsburg brewing system couldn’t support the growing demand for their beers, the Norgroves faced a transition bigger than any they had been through thus far. “We were trying to make a family decision whether we were going to open a bigger brewery or if we were content just being a brewpub,” Rich said. He had spent the last fourteen years on Healdsburg’s fire service while simultaneously running Bear Republic, working as both an engineer and an EMT.
In 2006, Rich was offered the job of Fire Inspector in Healdsburg, which would have obviously taken precedence over his duties at Bear Republic, that, as he recalls with a laugh, “have included working literally every position on the line in the brewery and the restaurant.” Faced with the decision to “become a fire captain or become a captain of industry,” Rich chose industry. Bear Republic was ready to grow again… but not without some external difficulties.
“[Cloverdale] needed the water, we needed the water… I would be willing to buy every single household in the city a new low-flow toilet, as long as the extra water came to Bear Republic. Then I was going to take all those toilets and have an architect or really crafty person put some sculpture together where all the beer would flow through them.’
The Norgroves opened their production brewery in Cloverdale, twenty-six point two km northwest of their Healdsburg pub, in 2007. Cloverdale’s cleaner water, and their greatly expanded 40,000 square foot facility, made brewing much easier than in Healdsburg. After a few years, bottled and kegged beer production had increased about six-fold.
Then came 2013. Years of drought and rising population in Sonoma County meant that Bear Republic’s ever-growing beer production was about to get grounded by a water curfew. Even though they used less than one percent of Cloverdale’s water supply, the brewery had to slow down production and pull out of a number of markets, like beer-crazy Massachusetts.
When the Cloverdale city manager first notified Senior about water limitations, he dreamed up the ambitious, imaginative, and fully functional toilet art described above. Then, after deeming this stroke of genius “a stupid idea” (his words), he wrote an $80,000 check from his own bank account to the city for exploratory wells.
Two weeks later, city officials gave him his check back—”cities cannot take money from individuals, and, obviously, I didn’t have eighty thousand dollars in my personal checking account,” Senior laughed. This altruistic act, however, opened a dialogue between Bear Republic and Cloverdale that led to an almost half-million dollar public-private partnership between the two. Ultimately, two new wells in Cloverdale were constructed in 2014.
Bear Republic’s long-term commitment to Cloverdale was proven again, mere months after their successful water partnership. Oddly, it again involved the town’s toilets (in a fashion). “The water came, and we went to pull our permits, and they said, ‘Uh, yeah, we have one other problem. We should have told you this before, but your high strength waste stream from your brewery—our ponds can’t support that,’’ Senior recalls.
This unexpected frustration led to innovation when Bear Republic contacted Watertown, MA’s Cambrian Innovation to construct a fully integrated wastewater treatment plant at the brewery. Even though Cambrian couldn’t legally get their hands on any Bear Republic beer in their home state, their EcoVolt system at Bear Republic—the world’s first at an industrial scale—allowed Bear Republic to reuse wastewater, significantly limit sewer disposal, and utilize microbes to generate electricity and water-heating through methane production. The EcoVolt installation helped Bear Republic make more beer by using less water—and helped get their beer back into Massachusetts a few years later.
Another huge environmental (and long-term cost) benefit the EcoVolt system brought to the brewery was finally halting their hauling of high-strength waste down to Oakland’s East Bay Municipal Utility District for the low, low price of $50,000 every month. In addition, the Norgroves began composting solid beer waste, donating spent grain to local cattle ranchers, and installing a solar energy system in 2014 that can be monitored in real-time here.
It’s pretty obvious the Norgroves are committed to the long-term well being of their community. They are also committed to their employees. “Before the Affordable Care Act, we were the only restaurant in Healdsburg giving our employees health benefits,” Rich said. “We were thinking like a bigger company when we were smaller. That’s the way our family has always been and always wanted to do it… we just try to build a better life for everybody related to the company.” In addition to Ryan and one other twenty-plus year employee, there are six more people who work at Bear Republic with over fifteen years experience at the brewery.
Expansion, Environmentalism and Altruism, part two: Challenges and Cans, 2017-present
“The only people we compete with is ourselves.”
While neither Sonoma County’s first (definitely Sonoma’s New Albion) nor longest-running (probably Petaluma’s Dempsey’s) brewery, the Norgroves and Ryan have been long-time witnesses to the myriad idiosyncrasies of American craft beer from little ol’ Healdsburg… which, to be fair, ain’t little no more. “Every major liquor buyer in the United States of America has a representative in Healdsburg every week,” Senior said about the hub of three of Sonoma County’s distinct wine-growing areas. “There are 110 to 115 wineries within ten minutes of that pub. Why would we miss an opportunity to connect with those people?”
Other brewers agree. There were almost thirty breweries in Sonoma County at the beginning of 2019, up from maybe five at the turn of the twenty-first century. Three of those breweries, including Bear Republic, even have two Sonoma County locations. Bear Republic’s Rohnert Park location—the town’s first brewpub—opened in August 2017, close to Sonoma State University.
As in Healdsburg, every beer served at Bear Republic’s more expansive, lakeside Rohnert Park location is brewed on-site (very rarely is a beer made in Cloverdale—even Racer 5—served at the brewpubs, Ryan told me). The Rohnert Park brewhouse is a little different by design—it’s a direct-burn 10-barrel kettle as opposed to the steam-jacketed kettles in Cloverdale and Healdsburg—yet Ryan’s gorgeously bearded brother Ray, Bear Republic’s pub brewer at both locations, keeps at least fourteen beers on tap at both locations at all times. An expanded menu with pizzas and extra entrees, a full bar, and games on the patio are big changes from the Healdsburg pub, although when asked whether he would ever work at Rohnert Park, Ryan admonished me by saying, “This is MY home—this is THE pub!”
“Everybody’s taken a hit in town… but Healdsburg stands and Sonoma County is still strong. There was a lot of loss, but the grass has regrown and the houses are being rebuilt.”
– Ryan, about the Tubbs Fire in October 2017
Effects from the devastating wildfires of October 2017 are still widely felt in Sonoma County. Five Bear Republic employees lost their homes. On the night the fires started, Bear Republic and Russian River Brewing Company employees were sharing rides back from San Francisco, returning to Sonoma County from the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. Mere hours later, Rich spoke with Russian River’s Vinnie Cilurzo about brewing beers with a short turnaround time to raise money to assist fire victims in Sonoma County. The Sonoma Pride movement was born.
Ultimately, over sixty breweries brewed their own versions of Sonoma Pride at the end of 2017, with over one million dollars being raised for multiple organizations in Sonoma County through the King Ridge Foundation. “If you look at most craft breweries, they are at the forefront of supporting nonprofits in their local area, whether that’s Rotary, or Kiwanis, or Soroptimist—not just Bear Republic, but Stone, Maui Brewing…” Senior foreshadowed during our interview in spring 2018.
The Camp Fire—the most destructive in California’s history—left untold destruction close to Sierra Nevada Brewing Company’s home of Chico, CA in November 2018. The venerable craft brewer quickly brewed Resilience Butte County Proud IPA using Sonoma Pride as a model, with all sales going towards helping those affected. Bear Republic—along with about 1500 other breweries—also brewed a Resilience IPA. As of January 2019, the brewing community had raised over fifteen million dollars for the Camp Fire Relief Fund.
“We’ve been doing this twenty-two years. Kids that are now drinking our beer weren’t even born when we started. Redeveloping yourself and redefining who you are, what your mission is, who your target audience is—those are issues that any business, whether craft beer or selling widgets, that you have to deal with. Putting a good team together and working toward those mutual goals has been beneficial for the whole industry.”
What do the next twenty-three years look like for Bear Republic? In October 2018, Rich took over the CEO position from Senior. “I always knew that was going to be my perfect partnership if I could get my dad to be part of anything I started,” Rich said. “Senior always provided that older business sense that I needed to learn. He’s always been my mentor… it all ties back to him pushing me to go get experience in brewing. Now we’ve done it! I’m really proud of the fact that Bear Republic and Norgrove are synonymous.”
Senior, who is now Chairman of the Board, is probably in a position to stop working—not that he’s going to do that any time soon. “We’re one of the first breweries in the U.S. that have done well enough so that one of the original founders of the brewery can retire,” Rich said, “but my dad comes from that generation that believe if he retires, he’s going to die.” Senior will provide sound financial oversight but has ceded day-to-day sales and marketing operations to his son.
Long-time Master Brewer Peter Kruger will become COO of Bear Republic, and ‘new’ brewer Roger Herpst (who has been with the brewery for ‘only’ a little more than ten years) will become Brewmaster. One of the first operations they will oversee is Bear Republic’s new focus on canning.
Any casual observer of craft brewing knows, cans—especially those of the 473 ml size—are immensely popular with breweries and drinkers alike. Instead of investing in a small canning line that would quickly be outgrown, Bear Republic invested a significant amount of money and alterations to the foot pattern in Cloverdale to install a canning system that went online in March 2019, and their Challenge IPA series—consisting of one-off IPA recipes in four packs of 473 ml cans—was born. Racer 5 and Racer 500 are also currently available in this format, with many more new and old (hint to Rich: Wine Country Wheat? Peter Brown Tribute?!) Bear Republic favorites to follow.
Whatever other changes come to Bear Republic and the brewing industry over the next twenty-three years, though, don’t expect complacency from the Norgroves. Senior has been a major contributor to multiple Sonoma County service groups and the Raven Performing Arts Theater for years. Rich, in addition to being former Army/graphic artist/brewer/race car builder/race car driver/fireman/Renaissance man, somehow also finds time to be a knuckleballer with an seventy-five (plus) mph fastball who throws around fifteen hundred cage pitches every four days for the Healdsburg High Hounds JV and varsity baseball teams.
Ryan might not have had that kind of velocity when he was coaching little league back in 1998, but he’s got a pretty good right arm for something else. “I’d rather have a conversation with a person. Everyone who walks up to my bar, I give a handshake. I don’t know anyone who does that,” Ryan told me at the end of our conversation as we (naturally) shook hands.
Make it a point to try Bear Republic’s beer next time you come across it—Rich’s racing label designs are unique, distinctive, and indicative of a sense of place and vision (just like the beer inside). Better yet, head to Sonoma County, spend an afternoon or evening (or both) in their Rohnert Park or Healdsburg brewpubs. When you order your first El Oso and Ryan yells “El OH-so!” though, don’t be surprised. Shake his hand, ask him about the abalone ban, and enjoy your conversation (and your beer).
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