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Bear Republic Brewing wants to give beer lovers a reason to go to Cloverdale.

The company recently bought 1.5 acres next to its Cloverdale production facility to create a "destination brewery," where people can see how beer is made, sample it and get a bite to eat.

"We're trying to create a spot where people say 'what do you want to do this weekend? Let's go up and take a tour of that brewery,'" said Richard Norgrove Sr., the chief executive, president and owner of Bear Republic Brewing.

The steadily growing company, buoyed by the rise of the craft beer industry and the popularity of its flagship "Racer 5" IPA, hopes to perhaps quadruple its current output at the Cloverdale location with an expanded brewery.

With 72,000 barrels produced last year, or more than 2.2 million gallons, Bear Republic has gone from its founding in 1995 in Healdsburg to become the 34th largest craft brewery in the country, and 45th if you include mass market behemoths such as Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors.

Of the 21 breweries in Sonoma County, only Lagunitas is larger. It produced about 500,000 barrels last year.

Norgrove said "we'd like to get to 250,000 to 300,000 barrels."

The new Cloverdale facility is expected to take three to five years to become reality.

Norgrove said it's too soon to say exactly what will be built on the vacant parcel the company bought in December for $950,000, or whether there would be a pub.

"If you're drinking beer it's important to have availability of food at the same time, so you're not just getting people inebriated," he said. "Whether it's a deli or brew pub, who knows?"

He said visitors who tour the new brewery will be able to see what beer making entails, from the grains, hops and water that go into it, to how the plant handles by-products and waste.

"We want to educate people on brewing and the process, the history of it," Norgrove said.

Mary Ann Brigham, owner of Ruth McGowan's Brewpub in Cloverdale, welcomed Bear Republic's plan for a destination brewery.

"That would be great for us," she said, adding that it will give people more reason to stop into Cloverdale.

"People will pull off and say 'oh, that other little pub,'" she said. "I wish there were 100 breweries in Sonoma County and some of them were in Cloverdale."

She said Sonoma County "is finally waking up to the fact breweries are popping up all over the place and hopefully Sonoma County will become a destination for beer."

For Brigham, who makes less than 500 barrels a year at her pub, it's all about focusing "on making really fresh beer for people who walk in the door. And we sell a few 22-ounce bottles around the county."

But she can't always keep up with demand. Brigham's plans for expansion were recently put on hold when the City Council passed an emergency ordinance imposing mandatory water conservation measures because of the drought.

Brigham, a city councilwoman, voted along with her colleagues to impose the stricter water measures. She said she would like to double her beer output, but "I can't expand when my neighbors are being asked to cut (water use) 25 percent."

The ability of Cloverdale's municipal wells to service its population of 8,600 people, as well as provide enough water for firefighting in the summer months, could impact Bear Republic's expansion plans.

The company last year agreed to pay $460,000 up front in connections fees to get more water beyond the 8 million gallons — about 1 percent of the city's water — to which it is now entitled.

The money is being used by Cloverdale to develop two more wells that are scheduled to come on line this summer and supply an extra 600,000 gallons of water per day.

"It's far more than we need, so there's plenty of water left over for the city and future development," Norgrove said.

But that also assumes the wells that draw from the Russian River will produce satisfactorily, especially if river levels remain lower than normal.

"The drought kind of overlays everything. As long as there's an emergency in place, enlarging a connection (to a business) may be difficult," said City Manager Paul Cayler. "We don't know what the impact of the lower river stages will be and how much water the wells will be able to produce."

Norgrove said extenuating circumstances could lead to Bear Republic expanding somewhere else, but "that's not an option we're anywhere near considering now."

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com