They’ve been working behind the scenes for some time now, but as of today most of the details have been worked out, so they’re making it official. Rich Norgrove, along with his wife Tami Norgrove, owners of Bear Republic Brewing of Cloverdale are partnering with John Martin and Roy Kirkorian of Drake’s Brewing, headquartered in San Leandro, to effectively merge the two breweries. In official terms, today they “jointly announced the sale and purchase of certain assets of Bear Republic to Artisan Brewers LLC” (which is Drake’s Brewing’s official business name).
What that means in practical terms is that “Racer 5 is shifting gears once again, beginning a new collaborative partnership with The Drake’s Brewing Co. The iconic West Coast IPA, once at the forefront of the California craft beer boom, is merging lanes to accommodate industry-wide challenges, while keeping a firm ‘pedal to the metal,’ moving forward.” The deal means Drake’s will acquire “all of Bear Republic Brewing Company’s recipes, formulas, and intellectual property, and will allow The Drake’s Brewing Company to continue producing the Bear Republic lineup of beers, including its Racer 5 IPA, as well as their other brands, plus new beers in the coming months. The long-time industry friends are aligned in their vision, bringing Bear Republic Brewing Company into new markets, new communities and new opportunities moving forward.
“We have always admired Drake’s Brewing Company’s passion for craft beer, their community as well as their commitment to quality,” said Bear Republic Brewing Company’s CEO Richard Norgrove. “Joining forces with Drake’s will allow us to bring our beers to even more customers, and we’re excited to be a part of the Drake’s family.” Throughout the merger, Norgrove will continue to be a shepherd of the brand, helping to represent the family-owned brewery in the manufacturing, production and sales of BRBC’s recipes.
So it’s not a straight sale, as is often the case, but instead, as Norgrove explains it, it’s more like “not coming in and buying the car, but buying the engine and driver.” Norgrove, as well as his longtime brewmaster, Peter Kruger, will continue to work with the Bear Republic brand. It will continue to be brewed in Cloverdale, but brewing will be transitioning over the coming months to San Leandro.
I spoke to both Martin and Norgrove this afternoon, and they stressed that this deal “makes them both stronger.” Bear Republic’s best-selling beer, accounting for 92-percent of sales, is Racer 5, so that, along with new favorite, Racer 7 (a 7-percent hazy IPA), will be the primary focus during the transition period. Naturally, the two have known one another for decades in the Bay Area brewing community and have even shared some of the same brewers who have worked for both companies. So as Martin described it, there are “so many cool things from a synergistic point of view.” They also share distributors in some key markets, which will help make the transition smoother. The good news here for beer overs is that Bear Republic beer will continue to be brewed in the Bay Area and may lead to it being even easier to find. The two have already started talking about future satellite locations, starting in Sonoma County, similar to Drake’s Dealership in Oakland and The Barn in West Sacramento.
About the two companies.
Drake’s originally was founded as Lind Brewing in 1989 by Roger Lind. He sold the brewery to a local coffee company in 1998 and they changed the name to Drake’s, which had been a name used for many of the beers. In 2008, John Martin and Roy Kirkorian bought the brewery. Martin, along with his brother Reid Martin, also started Triple Rock Brewery in Berkeley, one of the earliest brewpubs in the country when it opened in 1986. After taking the reins, Martin and Kirkorian opened Drake’s Barrel House in 2011, its brewery tasting room and a few years later, in 2016, opened Drake’s Dealership, a beer garden and restaurant in downtown Oakland at the site of a former Dodge automobile dealership. In 2018, they opened another satellite location in West Sacramento known as The Barn.
Bear Republic Brewing was founded in 1995 by Ricardo and Tami Norgrove, along with his parents, Richard and Sandy Norgrove. By 1999, they’d won a gold medal at GABF for their Racer 5 IPA, one of the first popular West Coast-style IPAs. The original brewpub was located in downtown Healdsburg, but in 2005 they built a much larger production brewery in Cloverdale. In 2006, they won big at GABF, winning Small Brewing Company and Small Brewing Company Brewer of the Year. In 2017, they opened a second brewpub in Rohnert Park, and in 2019 due to issues with the landlord closed the Healdsburg location. But Covid hit them hard, as it did most breweries, and this led to them closing the Rohnert Park location, as well, focusing instead on their package beer and distribution.