Economic impact of craft brewers is growing in Sonoma County

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Sonoma County’s craft brewing industry continues to chug along as its overall economic impact reached $170 million in 2013, a 25 percent increase from the previous year, according to a survey released Friday by the county’s Economic Development Board.

The growth mirrors a national trend that is upending the $100 billion beer industry as younger consumers ditch domestic stalwarts such as Budweiser, Miller and Coors and embrace more flavorful brews that offer an artisanal feel, with some top names produced locally.

The results were provided at a conference held Friday by the Economic Development Board on the local beer, cider and spirits industry, which is making a mark for itself in the heart of Wine Country. That was evident as the halls of the Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel featured all sorts of people looking to do business with the new guard of brewers, ranging from bankers at Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan Chase & Co. to bottle companies and engineering firms.

Overall, the craft brewing industry directly supports 776 jobs in Sonoma County, according to the report. The county now is home to 42 craft breweries, cideries and distilleries, an increase of 17 since 2012.

The activity goes beyond sales at such notable local breweries as Lagunitas, Bear Republic and Russian River and spreads into support businesses such as accounting, transportation and legal services. In fact, the board’s survey found that local brewers supported $13 million in such services in 2013. It includes $3.9 million in wholesale trade business, $2.9 million in real estate activity, $2.6 million in food and drink service, $2.1 million in company management, and more than $1 million spent in trucking.

“We’re not exactly on a rail spur where a lot of ingredients we can get are railed in, so we use trucks,” said Richard Norgrove Sr., president and chief executive office of Bear Republic Brewing Co. “If you want to get into a side business, you may want to get into the trucking business.”

With the growth also comes challenges, which also were addressed during breakout sessions at the conference, most notably on wastewater.

Craft brewers are struggling to get rid of wastewater, which is comprised of sugar, yeast and proteins. Spent grains can be sent to farmers for feed and some treated water can be sent back through sewer systems.

However, so-called “high-strength” wastewater cannot be sent through sewer systems and must be trucked instead to other facilities, with most going to the East Bay Municipal Utility District in West Oakland. Lagunitas, for example, spends more than $1 million annually to ship such wastewater there from its Petaluma plant.

But local brewers will be able to have a closer option as the city of Santa Rosa is slated to have its wastewater treatment plant be able to accept up to 40,000 gallons daily of such “high-strength” wastewater in the fall.

The city is in the process of upgrading the plant to receive the trucks.

By breaking down the organic waste, the plant will be able to capture methane gas, which in turn can be used to help power its engines, said David Guhin, director of the city’s utilities department. Bear Republic is interested in trucking such wastewater from its plant in Cloverdale, though Lagunitas, which produces about 75 percent of the county’s beer, is building its own system.

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 521-5223 or On Twitter @BillSwindell.

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