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Monday, November 15, 2010

Rock Bottom and Gordon Biersch to Merge

Jay Brooks broke some fascinating slash disturbing news this morning: Rock Bottom and Gordon Biersch were purchased by Centerbridge Capital Partners. The resulting company, which will include Rock Bottom-owned Old Chicago, will be called CraftWorks. From the press release:
CraftWorks is led by Frank Day and Allen Corey. Frank Day, founder of Rock Bottom, serves as Chairman of the Board and brings over 45 years of restaurant experience to the newly formed company. Allen Corey, an original investor and 13 year CEO of Gordon Biersch, is the President and CEO of CraftWorks and brings over 18 years of restaurant experience to the position....

In addition to these three core brands, CraftWorks also operates a variety of specialty concepts including A1A Ale Works, Big River Grille and Brewing Works, Bluewater Grille, ChopHouse & Brewery, Ragtime Tavern, Seven Bridges Grille & Brewery and The Walnut Brewery.
I shot an email to Van Havig, brewer at the Portland Rock Bottom, to find out if he had any comment. Things are still too early to know too much--and his comments were general and hopeful. Apparently the individual breweries will retain their identities--they're not all becoming CraftWorks.

Color me a little concerned. One of the great virtues of Rock Bottom was the freedom it granted Van. He was responsible for brewing their regular line-up, but he also got to brew the kind of beers local Portlanders admire. Rock Bottom has been active in the Oregon Brewers Guild, and Van is the Treasurer and a former president. Let's hope the new ownership recognizes the value of these things--especially in a city with 36 breweries.

I'll comment more when I have more info.


  1. Fingers crossed...

  2. Jeff, Why are you worried about this merger? Didn't hear much fear about WIDHOOK merger or Portland brewing's Pyramid/magic hat buyout or Gambrimus Corps buyout of Bridgeport. Why does this merger worry you?

    We still have other corporate Brew Pubs that can merge around town: RAM, BJ's and some others that are growing. Rock Bottom buyout or merger was inevitable, they're a big corporate chain, like BJ's. Any fears there?

    I find it strange. Usually the Doc is all up in arms over corporate buyouts and mergers. Are you beginning to see that mergers and buyouts tend to bring negative influences and effects?

    Maybe we'll all see a big Rock Bottom in Vegas .... just like Gordon Biersch! Ahh... Corporate brewing... what a farce!

  3. I don't think the merger will negatively affect either brewery. Both were good breweries going into this so, hopefully that won't change. We'll see...

  4. Doc, I think you have the wrong frame. It's not corporate v independent, it's chain versus single brewery. (You didn't hear me talk about Gambrinus and BPort because it happened long before I blogged.)

    It all comes down to whether the parent company wants to homogenize things. That's what I'm worried about. I love that Rock Bottom has functioned like an independent brewery in Oregon--participating in the Guild, giving Van room to brew his bliss. That's what's in jeopardy here. It's not analogous to other deals we've seen recently.

    FWIW, BJ's has changed a lot. We used to have the services of Dan Pederson, one of the first brewers to experiment with farmhouse ales in Oregon--back in about '98. BJ's pulled all brewing out of Portland, and Dan had to go to Reno. That's not the model I'd like to see here.

  5. In the end... It's Chain v. Chain. GB and Rock Bottom are both chains. RockBottom, like BJ's has other breweries that are allowed to brew their own. This is a dying breed in the Chain beer world. The Rock Bottom brewery in Portland is just part of the big chain... brewing can stop tomorrow, the suits wouldn't bat an eye.

    This is part of the new homogenizing of the craft beer world.

    Rock Bottom's standard beers are just BORING. Van's additions are the only saving grace. BJ's are like Water with different colored dye added. Gordon Biersch is a shadow of the quality they used to be.

    I remember when BJ's brewed in Jantzen Beach. The standard BJ beers were HORRIBLE! Their brewed on premise beers were good to very good. The food always sucked. Makes a very Schizoid existence.

    I'm trying to see the Chain vs. Independent... It's just not there.

  6. Corporate v Independent?
    Chain v. Chain?

    How about, "Don't hate the player, hate the game."

    In our case, Tempe has a Brewmaster at a Gordon Biersch location that is working with local homebrewers to do pilot batches. The homebrew collaboration beer will be on tap this winter.

    Working with homebrewers like this may be more of the norm in Beervana, but here in the literal hub of the "Chain Industrial Complex" that is Metro Phoenix it's groundbreaking stuff.

    Lots of good brewers work in BJs, GB and RB. Most of them here are happy to share experiences.

  7. For the sake of the record, it was more like Standard & Poor's broke it in early October > press release on GB site > me > Jay but I'll let that one slide :P

    As for the merger, I was a bit confused because I saw Rock Bottom restaurants listed as being in the GB family prior to this whole CraftWorks thing. So what was their relationship before it?

  8. I can't believe that no one has pointed out the hilarity of the new corporate name!  It's clearly the upside to this thing.  Craftworks? Shouldn't it be Kraftwerks?
    And for the record, back in the mid 90's, RB and Big River (the company that became GB) had joint ownership of each other - RB owned almost 50% of BR, and BR owned something like 30% of RB.  They opened Atlanta and Charlotte under the RB name, and the deal allowed them to keep the name provided their ownership structure remained the same - which it has until now.  The two companies have been fairly incestuous for a long time.  The difference now is that the new owners are purely money men whose concern is profit for their investment portfolios.  By the way Oregon PERS has $300 million with Centerbridge, so Oregon public employees better hope this whole thing does well.
    Van Havig
    Senior Brewer
    Rock Bottom Brewery, Portland OR

  9. It's just like one big Corporate game of Monopoly... the breweries are houses and Breweries Chains are hotels. So, who wants to take out the guy with the iron or the Scottie Dog? ;-}

    It's all about McMediocre beer vs. allowing brewers to use their own imagination. I think for every McPale Ale or McBlond ale brewed at BJ's or any other McBrewery, that brewer should be allowed to make an equal amount of his/her own imaginative beer.

    We don't have to look very far to see where big Corporate brewing gets you... Bud Ice and Miller Lime or some crap like that.

    For those of you who are Brewers at McBrewery's all over the country... Do you think your current work environment is driven by corporate office's bottom line or your personal brewing imagination?

    Wanna bet I won't get an answer? They know MR. Scottie Dog could be reading. :-O

    Keep American Craft Brewing Alive! Keep the corporate suits out of the brewery!

  10. I am no damned fan of chain restaurants; hate 'em. But...I don't go to GB or RB to eat, I go to drink, and for drinking, at least at the ones I go to, I've got no complaints. We've got a regional chain here in Philly, Iron Hill, that you may have heard of because of all the GABF medals they keep winning for things like RIS and Belgian styles. People around here keep trying to hate on them for being a corporate chain, but the fact is that the beer speaks -- screams! -- for itself. We've had truly crappy corporate brewpubs: HOPS! comes to mind. You know what makes a crappy corporate brewpub: boring, cheaply-made beer. I haven't had any of that at a Rock Bottom in a looooong time, and I don't ever remember getting it at GB. Tip of the hat to Van, too: we remember when he brewed back here in the East, and he kicked ass. Geoff Lively kicks ass in Bethesda, MD, and Brian McConnell totally whips it at Rock Bottom King of Prussia (PA). Just sayin'... beer doesn't suck until it actually sucks, unless you let politics rule your palate.