I wrote about the new Gordon Biersch Hefeweizen***+ in my column today (Wednesday, June 21, 2006) in the Oakland Tribune and the other ANG newspapers around Northern California and I promised some background about GordonBiersch on my blogs
So — let’s start at the beginning. There are two partners, Dan Gordon, 46, the brewer, and Dean Biersch, the restaurant-marketing-management guy. I haven’t talked to Dean in a long time, but I had a conversation with Dan last week. This account’s based on our interview.
They were introduced by a friend in the early 1980s, who said “You guys should get together.” As Dan tells us, they each had a business plan involving beer. “We hung around and chatted for a week, then we combined our plans,” Dan says.
They chose Palo Alto, where Bob Stoddard had recently closed the pioneering Palo Alto Brewing (opened 1983, brewing real ale, closed 1986) and moved on to Sunnyvale to open another brewpub. Some equipment went to Tied House in Mountain View; Dan and Dean got much of the rest.
Dan said he got interested in engineering, while working a summer job at California Canners and Growers in San Jose, while he was a student athelete at the University of California, Berkeley. “The athletic department arranges these jock jobs. Mine was at the cannery, where I was supposed to pick rotten fruit out.”
Fate intervened. “They said, `Hey, we notice you’re taking physics. I ended up working for two senior engineers doing things with boilers and cookers. It was a great job,” Dan says. “They were very senior, one was 68; the other was 72, they were like my private mentors.”
He graduated from Berkeley in 1982 with a degree in econ. But instead of looking for a job in finance, he enrolled in the famous Weihenstephan Technical University in Munich the only American in a class of 96. Five years later, in 1987, he received his degree along with 17 classmates. He was the first American to graduate in over 50 years.
“I learned German the hard way,” he said. “I took classes at Berkeley, he had been an exchange student in Northern Germany and he took an intensive German class for six weeks before classes began.
“I took my final orals in October, 1987 and we opened Gordon Biersch (Brewery Restaurant) in Palo Alto in July, 1988,” Dan said.
From the start, the beer was German-style, mostly lagers. In Bavarian tradition, all their beer follows the Reinheitsgebot, the German Purity Law which allows only barley, hops and water (yeast was unknown and the code was stretched to include wheat). The food also made the place a destination.
They opened their second brewery-restaurant on the Embarcadero fronting San Francisco Bay in San Francisco and expanded restaurant after restaurant until they hit the wall. Dan explains that due to changes by the state (California) Legislature, there was/is a prohibition on owning both a brewery and restaurants serving alcohol. There was a ceiling of 60,000 barrel brewery and brew-restaurant production combined. They hit that level in 1999.
Dan Gordon, left, Dean Birsch
“We hired a lobbyist, we tried hard, we were completely unsuccessful. The beer wholesalers lobbied against us, so (then Gov.) Gray Davis and (then Assembly Speaker) Herb Wesson didn’t want to change the law. So we had to sell the restaurants. It’s not a joyful part of our history,” Dan says.
They sold the restaurant-brewery to Big River Brewing Co., an investor group now headquartered in Chattanooga, TN and operating as Gordon Biersch Restaurant Group, Inc.
There are now 25 restaurants in 14 states.
The company plans an initial stock offering on June 26, estimated share price, $12. The offering is expected to raise $51 million and present top officers will own 35 percent of the company.
Anyway Dan Gordon says the brewery still consults with the restaurants to ensure that the restaurants adhere to Gordon Biersch standards.
Meanwhile, life has come full circle for Dan Gordon. Their new which produced 73,000 barrels last year is located in a refurbished, brick Continental Canning Co. building exactly one block from the place where he worked for California Canning.
If you live away from the West Coast you might not be familiar with Gordon Biersch. Simply put, they produce great beer, German malts, German yeast, almost exclusively Hallertau hops. Check out their web sit here.
Beers are Pilsner, Golden Export**, Märzen***, Blonde Bock**** and Hefeweizen***, plus a Winterbock*** seasonal. Distribution in bottles and kegs throughout California, Hawaii and Arizona.
For the future, Dan says they’re looking seriously at a regular seasonal lineup. I like that. williambrand.