New owners of Santa Rosa's Third Street Aleworks aim to recruit younger customers

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For years, Third Street Aleworks has been the proverbial middle sibling of the Sonoma County craft beer scene, even though it was one of the first local brewpubs in the modern era, opening in 1995.

The big reason is that a couple blocks away in downtown Santa Rosa sits the mecca for many craft beer lovers near and far. Russian River Brewing Co. has been attracting long lines at its Fourth Street taproom and plaudits for over a decade, most notably every February for its limited release of Pliny the Younger triple India pale ale, regarded as one of the best in the world.

Now, Third Street has younger owners in their early 30s. They aim to grow the brand beyond its core following of a clientele that is much more into Led Zeppelin than Lizzo.

Three Piner High School friends and business partners — Chris and Arika Frederick and Mathew Vella — bought the business for an undisclosed amount from founders Todd Hedrick and Chris Hagan in April. A celebration of the new ownership will be held on Saturday at the brewpub.

They came into the business from an entrepreneurial background rather than the home-brewing scene that is typical for those in the local beer sector.

The Fredericks started with a small online engraving business out of their home in 2012, after they had their first child. Frederick Engraving grew and they brought on Vella and later made him a partner. In early 2018, they bought Halls Executive Gifts and Awards, a longtime business in Rohnert Park.

But they weren’t done expanding. Chris Frederick kept his eyes out for more acquisitions. He came across a list of six possible businesses to buy and cited them to his wife. One was a screen-printing company. There was another engraving business, but in Southern California. “He started at the bottom. They all sounded terrible,” Arika Frederick said.

There was an unnamed local brewery on the list, which they were able to deduce was Third Street. The Santa Rosa brewer produces from 1,100 to 1,400 barrels annually and also cans its own beer for retail. It didn’t take them long to be interested.

“Being able to hold these businesses and have a standing in Sonoma County is a big draw for us. We are trying to deepen our roots within Sonoma County,” Chris Frederick said.

His wife quickly added: “And have fun while we do it.”

The three have retained Third Street’s brewer Tyler Laverty, who has been with the brewery for almost 10 years, as well as general manager Michaela Hinkson, plus the staff of about 60. They think that Third Street has all the right ingredients: great beer, good food and an excellent location to be successful.

The downtown brewpub is noted for its flagship beers Puddle Jumper pale ale and Bodega Head IPA. Laverty has kept up with current craft beer trends by offering a rotating selection of different styles such as hazy IPA, saisons and kettle sour beers, too. There are up to 17 beers on tap at the taproom.

“When I walk out from the brewhouse, the guests are very quick to let me know what they do and do not like,” Laverty said. “I get that instant feedback.”

Although Third Street produced good beer and food, it was lacking marketing savvy to let more people know about brewpub, especially millennials. Increased social media and more events will be part of the new strategic focus.

“I think it’s pretty amazing they have been able to accomplish all this with zero dollars in marketing budget,” Arika Frederick said.

Laverty said some local craft beer drinkers he encounters are unaware of Third Street, even though it has been around almost 25 years.

“Going back to ’95, there were a lot less breweries and a lot less places to buy the beer,” Chris Frederick said. “Coming into a market today, where there are a lot more breweries around, it takes a lot more marketing and a lot more pushing. That’s one thing we kind of have that background in now.”

The task is definitely a challenge given that there are about 30 breweries operating in Sonoma County today, compared with only a handful when Third Street started making beer. A few have closed their doors in recent years with the increased competition, including 2 Tread Brewing Co., which closed in January at nearby Santa Rosa Plaza.

“Tyler makes great beer. How can we get that beer to market and excited about it?” Chris Frederick said. “We do make amazing beers that the younger generation — millennials — wants.”

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223. On Twitter @BillSwindell.

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