In the West Coast hop wars, Bear Republic Brewing Company is known for packing some serious artillery. We drove north from Lagunitas Brewing Company to taste some of the Bear’s bolder beers, some hoppy, and they all delivered.
Richard and Sandy Norgrove founded Bear Republic in 1995 with son Richard and his wife Tami. Their airy brewpub is located just off of Healdsburg’s main square. Inside, it’s decorated with plenty of Bear Republic memorabilia and features a full menu, though we weren’t there to eat. In the spring and fall, when the weather cools down, it’s easy to imagine sitting on the creek-facing patio, sipping a pint.
Until 2006, all beer was brewed on-site by the two Richards. Now they have a plant in nearby Cloverdale, but still brew at the pub as well. Richard, Jr. currently handles brewing duties along with Joel Johnson.
I tried 3-ounce tasters ($1.50 each) of Double Rocket red ale, ultra hoppy Racer X and Black Mamba, a Belgian style wit. They have a printout explaining the beers in more detail, and lined up the glasses on the corresponding circles.
International Bittering Units (IBUs) are used to measure hop bitterness in beer. The scale supposedly maxes out at 100 IBUs, since people apparently can’t tolerate any more bitterness, but Bear Republic has topped the 100 mark with beers like Apex IPA. Racer 5, their most popular IPA, clocks 69 and contains both Columbus and Cascade hops, but that’s widely available, so I opted for Racer X. The double IPA packs an even bigger wallop than Racer 5. At the brewpub, they have it on cask, but the bartender said it tastes better on draught. In retrospect, I should have ordered them both ways to decide for myself. Anyway, Racer X may have had only 72 IBUs, but still cointained 8.4% ABV, had a rich red color and plenty of balanced bitterness.
Red Rocket is a red ale brewed with five grains and both Centennial and Cascade hops. Double Rocket (9.8 % ABV) is Red Rocket Ale x 2, with double the ingredients, rich red color and “double the fun.” This beer packed a punch up-front, but still had a malty finish.
Black Mamba (6.1% ABV) was a newer release, Bear Republic’s take on a Belgian wit, brewed with three kinds of wheat and both pale and crystal malt. The circle predicted “roast clove notes” would predominate. I probably don’t have enough roasted cloves, so that flavor didn’t jump out at me, but it was a malty, smooth-sipping black beer.
I would have gladly stayed to work my way through Bear Republic’s roster, but we already tried eight beers at Lagunitas and Russian River was less than an hour away, so we had to show some restraint. Bear Republic is clearly producing beers with bold, diverse flavors, and I’d be happy to experience more of them.