Posted in Breweries

(Fort) Bragg-ing Rights

North Coast Brewing Co. has a lot to brag about.

North Coast Brewing Co.
The brewery at North Coast Brewing Co. in Fort Bragg, CA.

Aside from the fact that of all the bigger craft breweries in California (and possibly the US) they make some of my favorite brews, they also hold an enormous amount of awards and medals. It’s quite impressive to see when you first get into their restaurant across the street from their brewing facility. So yeah, they’ve got bragging rights!

North Coast Brewing Co.
The brewpub at North Coast Brewing Co.

I had the pleasure to visit North Coast back in December and spend some time at their Sequoia Room to listen to some jazz. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to tour their brewery at the time as they have stopped offering tours to the general public. Earlier this month, I participated in Brew at the Zoo and helped out a couple breweries I work with. There, I met Blu Whelan, North Coast’s Central Coast Sales Manager. I somehow remembered his email address and emailed him the next day. One can always hope, right? Blu got back to me and introduced me (thank you, Blu!) to their brewmaster, Patrick Broderick. You are all caught up on the back story and now here I am, in Fort Bragg, meeting with Patrick… at the brewery.

North Coast Brewing Co.
Brewmaster Patrick Broderick with the dipstick

Patrick started brewing as, you guessed it, a home brewer. He graduated college in 1992 with a Bachelor’s in Microbiology. There weren’t as many breweries back then and he got his first job at Anheuser-Bush working in the quality assurance department. He made a few phone calls in hopes of getting a job in craft beer, but things may not have gone as quickly as expected until, one day, he received a call back from Mark Ruedrich himself. “It was meant to be,” Patrick said. He had left a voicemail on Mark’s phone while sitting in traffic and Mark had called back by the time Patrick got home. Patrick had a lot to learn and started at North Coast making minimum wage. “I’m blessed to have learned my craft directly from him,” Patrick said. Yes, you are! Back then, North Coast, which had opened its doors in 1988, had a 7-BBL system all contained in the facility that is now their restaurant. Small parenthesis here: North Coast opened up their 50-BBL brewing facility across the street in 1994. Back to Patrick now. In 1995, Patrick graduated from UC Davis’ Master Brewers Certification program. He learned the theory in school and was able to practice right here at North Coast. 1999 rolled around. Patrick got married and had his first child. He was young and needed money to support his family. He talked to Mark about getting a raise, but North Coast couldn’t afford paying him anymore than he was already making at the time. Patrick and his family then relocated to Moab in Utah where he started his own microbrewery. His wife eventually got homesick and the family decided to head back to California.

In 2000, Patrick started working at Mendocino Brewing Co. before Mark reached out to him. Patrick said that Mark got aware of his return to California and called him up saying that if Patrick was going to work in California he was going to work for North Coast. That’s quite a compliment if you ask me! It’s almost like Patrick’s always been around. He’s only missed a few years of North Coast history and knows his craft through and through.

North Coast Brewing Co.
The Meura mash filter from Belgium

Should we start talking brew now? North Coast currently puts out around 90,000 BBL a year (placing them consistently between #45 and #48 in the nation in terms of production). Quite a bit, isn’t it? You should see this place. Patrick had warned me before going in, but the place is crammed. “We’ve got to be making more beer per square foot than any other brewery in the US if not the world,” Patrick said. I believe him. Almost every inch of space is being utilized and they have had to maximize their space and efficiency by acquiring some pretty impressive pieces of machinery. You don’t make 500 BBL of beer a day on a 50-BBL system just like that. About three years ago, North Coast invested in a state-of-the-art mash filter manufactured by a Belgian company called Meura. In short, this piece of equipment allows them to cut down considerably on the time it takes to make wort. It takes them an hour to separate the wort as opposed to 4 to 6 hours. Other advantages: water efficiency, less greenhouse gases, no sewage and less grain. Other than the mash filter, North Coast also practices high-gravity brewing.

North Coast Brewing Co.
The North Coast Brewing Co. lab

I am always in awe of larger craft breweries. Their ability to remain consistent batch after batch after batch is truly impressive. Some breweries rely on a sensory program like Deschutes Brewery. At North Coast, Patrick is it —or almost. Patrick said they put a lot of emphasis on communication, education, training, checklists, SOPs, etc. to ensure that their product remains consistent. “No one gets put down there where they don’t know what they are doing,” Patrick said. “We’ve always been detail oriented, especially with our sanitation because we only use hot water and no chemicals.” Patrick tastes every single batch. North Coast used to brew 24 hours a day but scaled back at the beginning of the year. They now work from 4 am to around 11 pm with around 25 people on the floor. Almost all of the workers have been around for several years if not a couple decades.

North Coast Brewing Co.
From left to right: Scrimshaw Pilsner, Ruedrich’s Red Seal Ale (cask), Prankster Golden Strong Belgian Ale, Passionfruit-Peach Berliner Weisse, Foggy Day IPA

Beer anyone? I don’t know about you, but I’m thirsty. Let’s take a quick peak at the flight I got at their taproom (see photo). From left to right: 1. Scrimshaw Pilsner 2. Ruedrich’s Red Seal Ale (cask) 3. Pranqster Belgian Strong Golden Ale 4. Passionfruit-Peach Berliner Weisse 5. Foggy Day Haze IPA. Their best-seller? Scrimshaw. “Everyone loves it,” Patrick said. “There is a niche for it because everyone is making IPAs.” My favorites: Pranqster,  Ruedrich’s Red Seal Ale, and Foggy Day Haze IPA. North Coast has about 13 core beers. “It’s not our business model to come out with new beers all the time,” Patrick said. We can easily understand why! However, Patrick said he has a lot of fun coming out with new styles like Foggy Day IPA and would love to have a program for one-offs. It is to be noted that this hazy IPA is only available in bottles at their store and in their own pub across the street from the brewery (for the most part). Guess you guys will have to make the trip to Fort Bragg! It’s worth it. Promise.

I already miss my beloved Pranqster dearly…

More photos from North Coast Brewing Co.: