Beer: Saving a town from drought

There's been a bit of rain, but the West Coast is still recovering from a drought of historic proportions. It's been so bad, in fact, that the state of California came out with a list not too long ago of cities that are just flat out going to run out of water. The town of Cloverdale just north of San Francisco in Sonoma County got that diagnosis back in January. State officials said it had just 100 days left, but the Bear Republic Brewing Company, which calls Cloverdale home, stepped up with a plan. It would loan the city $466,133,000 to dig two new wells.

Bear Republic owner Ricardo Norgrove says the future of the city's water supply is not just good for his business, it's critical to the town he calls home: "I'm fifth generation Sonoma County. I want to be here. So for this to last and to be a generational brewery, meaning I can pass it onto my kids and my kids' kids, we need to be setting the foundation for today. That's what we're trying to do."

Norgrove isn't just helping find more water, he's cutting back in his business. He says Bear Republic accounts for 1.5 percent of the city's water use, but that's much less than other microbreweries, which soak up between 6 and 8 million gallons a year.

"The industry average today is somewhere between 6.5 and 7 gallons of water utilized to make one gallon of beer. We're running about 3.5 gallons of beer to one gallon of beer produced, so we're really conserving water in all types of operations in the brewery. It's just a culture now within the brewery."

Norgrove says his company has considered moving somewhere without the water woes, but he believes the problem will eventually be one his business would have to grapple with anywhere. 

"This is not just a local problem, this is a global problem. We do see other folks moving to communities and other states that have less regulations, but eventually it's going to catch up to everybody."


If the drought has you thirsty, Ricardo Norgrove recommended his ten favorite beers to wet your whistle:

1) Beer Republic Brewing Co.'s Racer 5 IPA (of course)

2) Anchor Brewing Liberty Ale

3) Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale

4) Hoegaarden Wit

5) Firestone Walker Wookey Jack

6) Pabst Blue Ribbon (The ol' classic)

7) Old Style

8) Negra Modelo

9) Ballast Point Sculpin IPA

10) Anderson Valley Brewing Company High Rollers Wheat

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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