Established in 1983, as California’s first “brewpub,” Mendocino Brewing Company pioneered the craft-brewing renaissance in the United States. The Ukiah-based organization’s product portfolio includes a wide variety of full-bodied beers and ales that have become legends in their own time. Dan Harvey raises a glass to Mendocino’s popular, award-winning offerings – as well as to its remarkable growth, which he delineates in this report.
For beer and ale aficionados, the most significant trend in the late 20th century was the re-emergence of small U.S. breweries that handcrafted their own beverages – a brewing tradition almost completely wiped out by the nation’s ill-advised foray into prohibition. These new breweries—often called microbreweries—loosened the mass-producing, corporate breweries’ stranglehold on the market and customer options. Well-informed consumers now had a veritable smorgasbord of substantial alternatives in terms of product and flavor.
Established in 1983, the Mendocino Brewing Company positioned itself as one of the pioneers of the American handcrafted brewing renaissance, offering a range of full-bodied ales and beers designed for those with the most discerning palates; that is, people with a passion for quality and taste that bordered on the obsessive. Since that time, the Ukiah, Calif.-based enterprise’s growth runneth over, like foam overflowing from a beer served up by an over-enthusiastic bartender.
A HOPPING ENTERPRISE
The company was founded by Michael Laybourn, Norman Franks and John Scahill, who shared a vision to establish a brewery that handcrafted a range of excellent beers. Company genesis initiated in August of 1983, when the trio opened the Hopland Brewery, the nation’s second “brewpub” and the first established in California since the prohibition era (a brewpub is generally defined as a pub or restaurant that brews its own beer right on its premises). During ensuing years, Hopland became regarded as a Mecca for beer-loving pilgrims who had heard about its savory beers and ales.
By December of ‘83, the brewery sold out of its first bottling of 1.5-liter magnums. Throughout the following year, it established new sales records each month, a success rate that compelled the company to expand production by 67 percent in the spring of 1984. Even so, the enterprise had a hard time meeting demand.
By 1985, sales grew an additional 27 percent. In 1987, the company started wholesale distribution and by 1988, it had 300 outlets in Northern California. This included most major restaurants in the San Francisco Bay area and in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties. Also, its major brands—Red Tail Ale, Blue Heron and Black Hawk Stout—were being distributed in 14 states. In 1989, it began packaging product in 12-ounce bottles, in response to consumer demand.
The business was incorporated in 1994 and officially became the Mendocino Brewing Company. In 1997, the year that Mendocino’s Red Tail Ale became one of the nation’s top-selling beers, the United Breweries of America, Inc. invested in the company, providing financial support for expansion and sustained growth. This was followed by two significant acquisitions that would further impact Mendocino’s fortunes: the Carmel Brewing Company (1998) and the United Breweries International LTD, a British corporation (2001). With the latter acquisition, Mendocino gained the license to brew and market Kingfisher Premium Lager beer in the United States. Kingfisher, an international brand noted for its excellence, had already enjoyed success in 55 countries. Mendocino anticipated—and is realizing—excellent growth opportunities for Kingfisher in off-premise markets throughout the United States.
Main brands produced on a year-round basis include Red Tail Ale, the flagship brand, brewed in traditional “old world” fashion; Red Tail Lager, a light-bodied amber lager; Eye of the Hawk, a more rich-bodied ale; Blue Heron Pale Ale, a medium-bodied smooth ale; Black Hawk Stout, an Irish-style stout; White Hawk Select IPA, a blended ale comprised of West Coast Cascade hops and English fuggle hops, the dark Black Eyed Ale, the premium Saratoga Lager, as well as Carmel Wheat Ale and Carmel Pale Ale.
The seasonal collection includes Bock Beer, a traditionally brewed pale lager that celebrates the spring rebirth; wheat beer, a refreshing summer beverage; Oktoberfest lager, an autumn seasonal brewed in the traditional German style, and Imperial IPA, a robust, full-bodied ale. “We launched these products late last year and early this year, and they’ve already been well received in the U.S. marketplace,” reports Singh. “In addition, they’ve earned several awards.”
In addition, Mendocino offers Kingfisher Premium Lager, the world’s top-selling Indian beer comprised of the finest quality malted barley and hops and brewed to the highest international standards, and the low-carb, low-calorie Kingfisher Light Lager. “We believe the Kingfisher brand has great potential, and we’re expanding that product’s distribution in the United States, which will add to our overall organizational growth,” says Singh.