I’d been hearing rumors about how the merger between Gordon Biersch and Rock Bottom was going, and the news wasn’t all good. I’d heard there had been few changes for Gordon Biersch brewers, but that life was getting more difficult for Rock Bottom’s brewers, who were used to having a certain amount of freedom to choose what they brewed. It probably didn’t help that Allen Corey, who had been running Gordon Biersch, became President and CEO of the newly merged company consisting of both brewpub chains, plus a third chain. One chain’s philosophy was bound to be favored over the other.
That all seems to have come to a head, as John Fosyton reports in the Oregonian, the Portland Rock Bottom’s celebrated brewer, Van Havig, has been “asked to leave” the company. Havig had been brewing for Rock Bottom for 16 years and consistently brewed some of the best beer I’ve had at any brewery. Foyston speculates that Havig may have been shown the door for publicly voicing his concerns with the direction the company had been taking since the merger, and primarily the loss of freedom for the brewers, for the first time imposing standardization. That was one of the hallmarks of Rock Bottom, their independence, and was the reason they won so many awards at GABF over the years. That they’re now apparently losing that independence can’t be a good sign for the future of the chain’s beers, if not the chain itself.
But the real loss is Havig. Van’s a terrific brewer and not having him brew for Rock Bottom makes them all the poorer. If you know about a brewing job, preferably in Oregon, drop John Foyston a note and he’ll see that Van gets it.