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Mark Ruedrich, North Coast Brewery

Joe Tucker talks to Mark Ruedrich, President and Brewmaster at North Coast Brewery
Features March 16, 2002      
Written by joet


Mark Ruedrich is President and Brewmaster of <a href="ShowBrewer.asp?BrewerID=108">North Coast Brewery. He’s an East Coast native who first caught the brew bug while witness to the Campaign for Real Ale while in England in the mid-1970s. He later settled in Northern California where he honed his brewing skills to become one of the world’s and RateBeer’s top brewers.

RateBeer: Hi Mark and thanks for chatting with us.

RateBeer: So the story begins in England where you were first inspired. Tell us…

Mark Ruedrich: My wife and I moved to Devon, England in 1977. We lived in part of a large old (800 years old!) manor house in the country at Lower Washbourne Barton, near Dartmouth. Blackawton was a wide spot in the road a few miles away and Blackawton Bitter was brewed there. The brewery was, and is still, I believe, in an outbuilding behind the brewer’s house. We were able to buy pints of this very well-made beer at the Maltster’s Arms, our local, in Tuckenhay. This was a revelation to me. That a guy could make this beer and sell it. One guy.

He was passionate. Beer and passion, I’m happy to say, aren’t uncommon bedfellows at RateBeer. I hope someone tastes this beer for the site soon.

So from England you made it out West. Why Northern California?

<a href="http://www.qksrv.net/click-1083173-1932276?ISBN=0804706417" target="_blank" onmouseover="window.status=http://www.half.com’;return true;" onmouseout="window.status=’ ’;return true;">Between Pacific Tides<img src="http://www.qksrv.net/image-1083173-1932276" width="1" height="1" border="0"> is a marine biology classic that was co-authored by Ed Ricketts, a biologist and friend of John Steinbeck. It was a book that I found as a zoology student in North Carolina that introduced me to the intertidal zone in Central California. After reading it I knew I had to come to California. And I did, living for a few years in San Francisco before moving to England for 2 years. When we returned to the US, my wife Merle and I chose Fort Bragg on the Mendocino Coast north of San Francisco to settle. It’s beautiful country and the coastline, tide pools and intertidal zone, is literally another world that spreads out at our feet here. Although the brewery takes up most of my time now, it’s a great comfort to know that there is this other place to go to and all you need is a low tide.

Yeah, that’s some brutal and majestic coast. It’s definitely worth the weekender up there from the Bay Area. I can see anyone doing what he can to stay there. So this is where North Coast was born?

Yes, North Coast Brewing began as a brewpub in 1988. Our first three offerings were our stout, now known as <a href="ShowBeer.asp?BeerID=677">Old No. 38, <a href="ShowBeer.asp?BeerID=676">Scrimshaw Pilsner, and <a href="ShowBeer.asp?BeerID=675">Red Seal Ale. Having been a home brewer since our time in the southwest of England, I’d been fooling around with formulations for beers like these for about 10 years, on and off. The emergence of some new hop varieties in the mid-eighties influenced how these beers ended up, but they were finished projects when we first brewed them for our opening and they are essentially the same beers we are producing in our new brewery in Fort Bragg now.

If someone told you back in say 1990 how popular your beer would be today, would you believe them?

1990 was still early days, so I’d say no. We won 4 medals for our beers at GABF in 1992 and, naturally, we began to get ideas then.

So the early success started a process for even better brewing…

Brewing is like many other creative pursuits. It starts with an idea and this becomes a problem to solve. You have an idea for a beer. And this becomes a taste problem. To brew good beer, it helps to have a good feel for sensory analysis. We do a lot of tasting before we tackle a given style. We have done a lot of tasting, period, over the years, looking for inspiration. And knowing what you are tasting and how to make your beer taste like you want it to taste, is a valuable skill. So you have an idea, and that has to be sound. And then you have your raw materials and process considerations. Everyone has access to the same ingredients and similar technology. Putting it all together is the trick.

We produce 9 brands year round and 2 other beers once a year, our <a href="ShowBeer.asp?BeerID=10778">Wintertime Ale and the vintage dated <a href="ShowBeer.asp?BeerID=7178&Show=0&SortedBy=2">Old Stock Ale. Generally speaking, the early pattern of product development has held true for us over the years, with beers changing very little once we release them for distribution. One difference is that the process takes less and less time as the brewers and I have gotten better at being able to materialize our vision for a particular beer - better at being able to solve the taste problems.

Of course, once you’ve made a beer you like, you need to continue to make it. For the commercial brewer the faucet is always open at the other end of the pipeline. Each day you get up and do it again. And so there are all the process problems to deal with. Being consistent, detail oriented, thorough, organized, and above all, humble in the face of the brewing process; these are some of the things that make a good brewer and a good beer.

It’s certainly worked for you. Not only is your beer very well regarded by fans of good beer but more and more retailers are stocking North Coast brews.

Red Seal Ale is our flagship beer. It accounts for more than 40% of our production now. <a href="ShowBeer.asp?BeerID=680">Old Rasputin sales are surprisingly strong for that sort of beer. Over all, about half of our sales are in California. Beyond that, we distribute many of our beers in about 30 states, and some to Japan, and Red Seal to Sweden.

That’s good to hear. You also make a quality Belgian style brew…

I sometimes wonder why there aren’t more attempts at Belgian inspired beers. Having had such a great success with <a href="ShowBeer.asp?BeerID=679">PranQster, and having had so much pleasure making this beer, we’re beginning to talk about more projects along these lines. And when we move our cold storage warehouse from the brewery, we may even have the room for a corking line. Stay tuned!

Oh we will. I’m sure you’ve got more than few people now eagerly awaiting some new corked surprise brews from North Coast.

What’s your big dream right now?

We have a modest list of goals at North Coast Brewing; distribution goals and sales goals. We’re always improving our facility. We have some ideas for beers that we’ve been thinking about making. We’re not satisfied yet, but we’re making progress. We’re making a success of the business. We’re growing. As for me personally, I’m already livin’ a dream.

More people should visit the brewery to better appreciate this. You’re having great success and living in an earthly paradise.

Congrats on your continued success, Mark. And thanks for the interview!




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