Beer Man

Rock Bottom Brewing merges with Gordon Biersch, plans no major changes

Rock Bottom Brewing, which was founded in Denver in 1991 and now has 35 locations nationwide, has merged with the Tennessee-based Gordon Biersch brewpub chain to form one of the largest craft beer-focused companies in the country.

The new firm, called Craftworks Restaurants & Breweries, also now owns Rock Bottom's other major subsidiary, Old Chicago, as well as its smaller properties, like the Walnut Brewery in Boulder, the ChopHouse in Denver and the Boulder Beer Company.

Rock Bottom co-founder Frank Day, who will become chairman of the board, says nothing much will change at any of the restaurants. "Each brand will stay separate and do its own thing. Maybe you will see a Gordon Biersch beer show up on Old Chicago's beer list, but we're not wanting to homogenize the restaurants," he explains.

The merger was made possible by a $150 million investment arranged and led by Centerbridge Capital Partners, a $12 billion money management firm. Centerbridge now owns a majority share of the combined companies.

"We didn't sell out. It was a good deal for us," Day says, adding that both Rock Bottom and Gordon Biersch were facing more debt than they could handle. "It was making it difficult for us to grow. We needed new equity. This will strengthen Rock Bottom."

And while Day says he plans to focus on integrating the two companies and growing both of them, Centerbridge is interested in buying up more beer makers. "In my mind, we have our hands full right now, but it has been discussed. Centerbridge has ambitions."

Founded in 1988 in California, Gordon Biersch has nineteen locations, including two in Colorado, and is known for its German-style lagers, while Rock Bottom, now based in Louisville, primarily brews small-batch ales at each location.

"We are much more experimental, and we let our brewers do more things," Days says, pointing out that Rock Bottom has won 45 gold medals at the Great American Beer Festival over the years. "We own more medals than any one else out there."

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