Bear Republic Brewing Co. will open a brewpub in Rohnert Park, becoming the latest homegrown beer company to expand in Sonoma County as cities vie for a piece of the fast-growing industry.
The new brewpub, at the site of the shuttered Latitude Island Grill, will be in addition to Bear Republic’s original location in Healdsburg and its new production facility in Cloverdale. It is expected to open within a year.
The deal was a result of recruiting by Rohnert Park city officials, who were looking to attract a new tenant to the vacant building. Restaurateur Nino Rabbaa signed a lease in 2012 for a brewhouse at the site just south of Roberts Lake, but he never followed through on those plans.
“An opportunity arose and we decided to move on it,” said Richard G. Norgrove, Bear Republic’s brewmaster and chief operating officer. “The city fathers are really amenable to the process that we are going to go through.”
The announcement comes as Russian River Brewing Co. looks to build a second Sonoma County location in addition to its continually crowded brewpub in downtown Santa Rosa. Local officials across the county have ramped up their lobbying to land Russian River, which every February sells one of the world’s most coveted brews, Pliny the Younger. Customers wait in line for hours to drink the beer.
“We have become a tourist destination,” said Ben Stone, executive director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board. His agency conducted a study that found craft brewing generated $169 million in economic impacts within the county in 2013.
“There is a huge demand to tour and stop at these breweries,” Stone said. “It’s coming into its own.”
Bear Republic had been focused on building a new brewpub in San Diego before Rohnert Park officials made their pitch to locate in Sonoma County’s third-largest city.
“We have been trying to recruit a brewery for the last three years,” said Don Schwartz, assistant city manager for Rohnert Park. The city was a local anomaly because it did not have a brewpub within its limits. “We called it the vacancy on the Brewery Highway,” he said.
The decision made sense for Bear Republic because it provides a convenient location for beer aficionados living in southern Sonoma County who didn’t like to drive all the way up to Healdsburg. In addition, it would give Norgrove the option in the future to temporarily shut down and revamp his Healdsburg brewpub, which opened 20 years ago.
Bear Republic, the second-largest craft beer producer in Sonoma County behind Lagunitas Brewing Co. in Petaluma, produced more than 76,000 barrels of beer in 2014. It was the 39th largest craft beer company in the United States in 2014, according to the Brewers Association, an industry trade group.
The new brewpub in Rohnert Park likely will have a capacity of up to 9,000 barrels with a beer garden and a spirits bar, Norgrove said. Bear Republic is entering the spirits business by making whiskey and rum.
Outreach by the city officials sealed the deal, Norgrove said. “It is nice when you have a receptive community,” he said of Rohnert Park officials.
New brewpubs are an attractive commodity to local economic development officials, who view them as a way to increase sales tax revenue, draw tourism and recruit other businesses. They are now focusing on wooing Russian River, which last year scrapped a possible location in Windsor at a property off Shiloh Road west of Highway 101.
The city of Santa Rosa, for example, has been working on improving its outreach with brewers, specifically touting its new water treatment plant. The plant can handle wastewater from breweries, making it convenient for them instead having to truck waste down to the East Bay Municipal Utility District in Oakland, said Raissa de la Rosa, the city’s economic development specialist.
Santa Rosa had recent success in bringing in HenHouse Brewing Co. from Petaluma. The brewery officially opens its taproom on Bellevue Avenue on Saturday.
The facility, a food plant that originally had been intended for Amy’s Kitchen, was a main factor in HenHouse’s decision. But co-owner Scott Goyne complimented the city for providing an affidavit for a zoning clearance before he signed a lease with his other partners.
“We had a positive experience with the city,” Goyne said.
Expansion by the craft beer industry is likely to continue. Shady Oak Barrel House, a craft brewer based in Santa Rosa, wants to double production and open a taproom, founder Steve Doty said this week. Norgrove said he expects other big craft brewers from outside the area will come into Sonoma County, which has become one of the top beer destinations in the country.