You may have heard that recently Rock Bottom (including Old Chicago) and Gordon Biersch have merged to become CraftWorks Restaurants and Breweries, Inc. This joining of brewery forces results in the United State’s largest operator of brewpubs and craft-beer focused restaurants with almost 200 locations across the country. While the initial idea behind the merger was to simply combine two powerhouse chains into one without any change in the way each operates, new information has lead us to understand that the move could have crippling effects on the creativity and innovation put forth by Rock Bottom.
The merger was the outcome of a $150 million investment spearheaded by Centerbridge Capital Partners, a $12 billion money management outfit that now holds a majority share of the combined companies. From the start of the whole deal there was much inference about how the business dealing would impact individual brewpub locations and the beer produced at each since each is quite unique to one another. According to new company’s board, the move was about building the capacity for both companies to grow and customers should expect to see no real impact on existing locations. Rock Bottom brewers, despite some misconceptions of the chain, have been allowed considerable autonomy from one another in creating one-off and seasonal beers that vary from one brewpub to the next. On the other hand, Gordon Biersch brewers have been bound to predominantly rigid German styles and are required to provide samples to their corporate laboratories to ensure across-the-board consistency.
Centerbridge Capital Partners new company board chairmen, Allen Corey and Frank Day, initially indicated that the move was simply about expanding capacity for each company’s growth and that loyal customers should not expect to witness any real impact on the respected craft brewing climates of each. However, in contradiction to the understanding of what the RB-GB merger might initially unveil, insiders at Rock Bottom have presented a very different perspective on what might become of the respected brewery that is currently a top destination for craft beer enthusiasts.
A source associated with Rock Bottom’s brewing department, who asked to remain confidential, tells us that it now looks like things with the RB-GB merger “aren’t going the way (the most of brewers) had hoped” telling Brewpublic “We’re less than a month into this thing and the new CEO has decided to start making changes to our beer program. He wants us to standardize at least four, and possibly up to six of our beers across the entire company.” This is a divergence from uniqueness would certainly be to the dismay of those, like us, who have thoroughly benefited from Rock Bottom’s spirit of individuality exhibited at each of its brewpubs. “We’ve never had ANY standardized beers in the history of the company.” says one Rock Bottom employee. “Most of us think (the homogenization of branding) is a terrible idea for a number of reasons, and it most likely signals the beginning of the demise of Rock Bottom to complete irrelevance in the craft brewing world – a la Gordon Biersch.”
Another insider tells us that “the new CEO has shown decisively that he doesn’t care about anyone’s opinion but his own (even in the face of beer sales numbers in terms of both dollars and barrels). We at Brewpublic endorse the continuation of Rock Bottom’s craft beer ambiance right down to the last specialty brew, and seriously hope that the powers that be realize that augmenting a very successful beer program in terms of reputation, dollars and profit is a bad business idea.
Brewpublic hopes that especially in great beer cities like Portland, San Diego, Seattle, Boston, Chicago, and Denver that the outcome of the RB-GB merger will not be that of glut-driven bland mass production. So far, no treadmill recipes have been imposed by the suits, and no threadbare beers have been brewed, so there may still be time to save one the artistic brew chain. We plead to CraftWorks and Centerbridge Capital Partners that if the word of said sameness from one establishment to the next is true that they seriously rethink such a malevolent swing. Would one who appreciates distinct regional beer styles bother to step foot in a Rock Bottom in another town if the offerings were to just mirror that of their local watering hole? Afterall with such a great influence upon America’s burgeoning craft beer landscape, now seems like a better time than ever for Centerbridge Capital Partners to lead the way in offering choice and variety injecting a bit of personality into the beers instead of reverting backwards to cookie cutter uniformity.
Save Rock Bottom from the throes of drabness! Spread the word! Stop the homogeneity of doltish beer options and cast your vote for allowing creative brewers’ skills to shine. If not, craft beer lovers like us, might be disposing of our Mug Club cards and taking our business elsewhere, especially considering that more and more options are being made available as the modern craft beer revolution continues to unfold.