Beer Man

The Rock Bottom brewery chain plans to standardize and bottle some of its beers

Three months after Colorado's Rock Bottom Brewing chain was absorbed in a financial partnership with the Gordon Biersch brewpubs, the new parent company, Craftworks Restaurants and Breweries, is thinking about bottling some of the Rock Bottom beers for the first time and selling them in liquor stores.

If that happens, Rock Bottom would come up with a single, consistent recipe for three to five of its "house" beers so that they would taste the same whether the beer was bought off a shelf or ordered at the tap at any of the 35 Rock Bottoms around the country.

Right now, the different locations often sell similar beers made with similar recipes, but different names. Typically, each has a light lager, a wheat, a red or amber ale, a pale ale, a brown and a "dark" beer on tap.

"We are asking questions about how we can continue to grow the Rock Bottom brand," says director of brewing Kevin Reed. "I'm a beer I think it would be beneficial to standardize a few of these and put them out there on a wider basis."

Most of the locations have eight to ten beers on tap. Since only four or five (the exact number hasn't been determined) would be standardized, each individual restaurant would still be able to brew its own specialty and seasonal beers -- as they do know, Reed is careful to add: "The specialty program would be unaffected. Some could do more."

The merger has caused some consternation among beer drinkers -- particularly in Oregon, where longtime Rock Bottom brewer Van Havig left the company -- who fear that all of the locations will be homogenized.

Reed insists that's not the goal, noting that Rock Bottom beers have consistently won awards at the Great American Beer Festival and other contests.

There's no timeline for when Craftworks would create these consistent house brands, nor any decision on where they would brew the bottled beer. "We are still learning how to walk and get along with each other," Reed says of Rock Bottom and Gordon Biersch.

And that has resulted in some business pangs. Last weekend, the company announced that it is laying off 30 to 35 people from its corporate offices "as a result of consolidation of resources and stronger efficiencies across all levels of the organization."

"The departing employees will be provided severance packages and most will remain with the company for varying lengths of time to assist in the transition," the statement read. Spokesman Will Powers wouldn't say whether the layoffs would take place in Colorado, where Rock Bottom is based, or in Tennessee, home to Gordon Biersch.

But "stronger efficiencies" don't mean the Rock Bottom beer will be bottled at the Gordon Biersch bottling plant in California, Reed says; the brewery and the restaurant group are under separate ownership, despite having the same name and website. They also appear to have the same spokeswoman, Kelly Wilson, who didn't return a call seeking comment.

Follow Westword's Beer Man on Twitter at @ColoBeerMan.

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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes

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