An alliance of local craft breweries and distributors are currently collaborating in an attempt to make breweries in the Gold Country area a destination for craft beer fans and tourists looking to expand their brew palate.
“There’s a disproportion in terms of the beer industry,” Auburn Alehouse Brewery & Restaurant representative Brenda Studabaker said. “Ninety percent of the industry is controlled by two massive companies, Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors. So with craft beer, we are like David to their Goliath, and if we stick together, it not only enhances our individual businesses but the collective as well.”
According to the Brewers Association, a national trade group of more than 1,900 brewers, U.S. beer production and sales in 2013 was down two percent from the year before. But craft beer production increased by 18 percent last year, and had a proportional 17.2 percent increase in sales.
Studabaker says that craft brew is on the verge of taking over the industry, and that Gold Country territories from Sacramento up through Tahoe have unique craft brewery establishments that have the potential to attract a large portion of that expanding industry.
“The community speaks for itself, our local breweries are winning awards that are national awards, so their businesses are all booming and no one is struggling right now,” Studabaker said.
“The domestic mainstream guys are down, so we’re collecting all of their business now, which shows people vote with their dollars, they want craft ale. So let’s give the people what they want.”
In June, Studabaker held an event at the Auburn Alehouse for brewers from the Gold Country to come together, network and talk more about ways they can help each other.
“It was sort of a test run to see how everyone would mingle and intermingle,” Studabaker said. “Could we all band together as a unified district and promote brewery tours, and do cross promotional involvements, was the question. Because sometimes in business, people are highly standoffish and competitive. But it was very successful, now everyone’s on board so all of these Gold Country breweries would like to work together to promote this area as a travel destination.”
Breweries and groups that attended the event included Knee Deep Brewing Co., Loomis Basin Brewing Company, Goat House Brewing, Boneshaker Brewery, Nevada City’s Ol’ Republic Brewery, and Three Forks Bakery & Brewing Co., a new restaurant located on the 200 block of Commercial Street in Nevada City, that will be holding its grand opening on Aug. 15.
“Professional brewing is a very open group of people and very helpful with each other in a way that I’ve never seen in any other industry,” Brew master and co-owner of Three Forks Dave Cowie said. “By having that helpful quality toward other brewers, it kind of helps other people into the market of craft brewing when their experience is positive with us as a brewery, they’re more likely to seek out other breweries and have similar positive experiences.”
Ol’ Republic Brewery co-founder Simon Olney said working with other breweries allows his business to corner the market and increase sales.
“I think in general the idea is excellent,” Olney said. “We’re far enough outside of the Sacramento area, we don’t get included in their newspapers, or localized events. So I think by getting together we have an opportunity to be an alliance and really have some room for us to diversify and be able to climb together and do some marketing efforts to get people to come up to the Gold Country.”
Studabaker, 33, is a Bear River High School graduate, and attended South Lake Tahoe Community College where she got a business management degree. She and her husband owned Grease Kings, a Sacramento company that collected vegetable oil from restaurants in the area to reuse for sustainable purposes.
Studabaker got her start in the craft beer industry working with Sacramento’s Rubicon Brewing Company for more than five years, and also worked as an apprentice under the company’s owner Glen Phillips. Studabaker moved back to Grass Valley last summer to work with the Auburn Alehouse, coordinating media events, functions and charities.
“One of the things (Phillips) taught me is to keep everybody close and unified,” Studabaker said. “You don’t want to keep separation because the statistics show there’s more than enough money for everyone to make. It keeps positive business associations, and that’s better for the collective of craft brew. So I’m just going to take those principles and implement them up here.”
Studabaker has also been collaborating with the CEO of the Newspaper Division for Gold Country Media Jeremy Burke, who, in July, will be releasing “Gold Country on Tap,” a magazine that will focus on covering craft brew culture, art and business in the Gold Country.
“We don’t have anything like this up here. Nobody’s done anything like this,” Studabaker said.
“It’ll have a map of all of these destinations, like wine tours, people like to do craft tours, so it’ll do featured articles on breweries, owners, artists, and anyone noteworthy within this territory.”
Grass Valley Mayor Dan Miller says he thinks this new local brewery alliance will be good for the western Nevada County economy.
“It is just another element of economic development and expansion in what we’re trying to do in Grass Valley, is create new opportunities not only for locals, but for people who come and visit our area,” Miller said.
“If you could bring people into the area and give them a place to do something they like, we’re looking at a younger generation, and I think it becomes attractive to them. We’re becoming a destination location and when people get here they want things to do.”
For Studabaker, bringing local breweries together will not only be good for the area’s economy, but it will give owners and brew masters an opportunity to bounce ideas off of each other and gain support in what they do.
“There’s a romantic idea about this but actually it’s a very labor-intensive trade, and it’s a mathematical job,” Studabaker said.
“There’s an analytical aspect along with a physicality. So there’s a respect that they have for one another, there is a camaraderie in the brewing industry because they all know how hard it is to do what they do.”
To contact Staff Writer Ivan Natividad, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236.