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North Coast Brewing co-founder retires from Fort Bragg brewery

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Mark Ruedrich, who co-founded North Coast Brewing Co. in Fort Bragg more than 30 years ago and led it to become one of the most respected craft breweries in the United States, announced his retirement on Tuesday.

Ruedrich, 67, retired as president from the brewery he helped start in 1988. Sam Kraynek, a food industry veteran who had been the brewery’s chief operating officer, will become chief executive officer. The company employs 140 people and produces about 70,000 barrels of beer annually, making it the 46th-largest craft brewer in the nation, according to the Brewer’s Association trade group.

“Leading North Coast Brewing for the past 30 years has been one of the greatest joys of my life. The craft beer industry has changed so much over the years, and it’s gratifying to see our continued success as the company enters a new era,” Ruedrich said in a prepared statement.

A trained biologist, Ruedrich got interested in craft brewing after a trip to England, where he became a fan of the flavorful beers there compared to the light lagers of Budweiser and Miller that dominated the marketplace in America.

Along with Tom Allen and Joe Rosenthal, Ruedrich launched the brewery in Fort Bragg and steered its steady growth of craft beers that are now sold in 48 states.

In a 2016 interview, he said that starting a brewery in a Mendocino County coastal town far off a major highway “did not make good economic sense, good business sense necessarily. It was not the sort of idea that investors would break down your door to get you.”

But “our isolation has served us well,” he said, enabling North Coast to craft its own identity away from the pack of rival brewers.

Ruedrich first garnered attention for brewing Red Seal Ale, the year North Coast started. The copper-red pale ale was made with a then new hop variety, centennial, which featured citrus and floral aromas unique to the beer marketplace. Red Seal Ale was one of the first brews that led the movement toward hoppy India pale ale beers that have become ubiquitous in the industry, especially in Northern California. The beer, an American amber ale with an alcohol content of 5.4%, is now considered tame by alcohol standards in today’s marketplace. The beer has won gold medals at the World Beer Championships.

North Coast, however, made its biggest mark in the U.S. craft sector by offering a wide variety of beers, so much so that it doesn’t have a typical flagship beer. Its Scrimshaw Pilsner is found in many taprooms across the country, though, and Red Seal Ale remains a steady seller.

In 1995, the brewery introduced Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout in a four-pack. The beer quickly became a favorite with online critics and was ranked as “exceptional” at the 2014 World Beer Championships. In recent years, North Coast also has branched into seasonal Berliner Weisse fruity tart beers.

The company, which also operates a taproom in Fort Bragg, added philanthropy to its brewing. It is certified as a B Corporation, meeting high standards for its environmental commitment, treatment of workers, its overall relationship with the local community and its business governance structure.

“We’ve continued to innovate and seek more and more ways to be environmentally and socially responsible. Those core pillars of our brewery are what I am most proud of,” Ruedrich said last week by email.

He will retain a seat on the company’s board. Doug Moody will maintain his role as the brewery’s senior vice president and national director of sales.

Ruedrich said that North Coast “will continue its independence” despite consolidation within the U.S. craft beer sector.

Editor’s note: The story has been update to clarify Ruedrich’s position as president.

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