Of all the Sonoma brewers, no one can stake a claim to “Renaissance man” quite like Richard Norgrove Jr. at the Bear Republic Brewing Co.
His resumé: U.S. Army veteran, firefighter, race car driver, bike builder, graphic designer (creator of all the Bear labels), Healdsburg Parks and Recreation commissioner, Little League coach and, in his free time, brewmaster.
“Today they might diagnose a kid like that as having ADHD, but back then they just called you ‘hyperactive,’ ” he said.
“I guess if I wasn’t doing all this, I’d go crazy. I just have to be going 110 mph.”
Back in 1995, when he and his father, CEO Richard Norgrove Sr., founded Bear Republic Brewing and Restaurant with $1 million, “Ricardo” had already paid his dues as an amateur home brewer and builder of custom home-brew kits for sale at The Beverage People in Santa Rosa. He used his welding experience with Salsa Cycles to construct the brewery. He had also taken classes in the brewing program at Seibel Institute of Technology in Chicago and apprenticed for free with Brandon Moylan at Moylan’s Brewing in Marin.
Norgrove, 46, still laughs at how he stumbled onto the Bear’s flagship Racer 5 India Pale ale), which today accounts for more than 80 percent of sales.
“It came out of a mistake,” he said. In 1998, when he was the solo brewer and working on a batch of the house pale ale, he accidentally threw in the hops for Red Rocket IPA. “All of a sudden you’ve got something that’s crazily unbalanced. But I made a rule with myself years ago that I would call it what it is. So we put it out to the public as Springtime Strong ale and about five versions later, it became Racer 5.”
Bear Republic would eventually expand with distribution in 35 states. But over the past four years, the company has scaled back to 22 states, producing around 70,000 barrels annually. Now, with 14 brewers underneath him, Ricardo is more interested in the motto, “Let’s be stronger in our backyard.”
Outgrowing the brewpub in Healdsburg six years ago, the Norgroves opened an additional production facility in Cloverdale.
“We’re not the little fish anymore and we’re not the big fish. We’re in the middle, so we’re getting eaten from both sides,” Norgrove Jr. said. “The little guys are eating at us and the big guys are chomping on us. So my long-term goal has always been to be that brewery that when somebody thinks of Sonoma County long term, they think of that family brewery as Bear Republic.”