Wine County Beer People - Yashpal Singh

Fifth in the series

 

Keeping a pioneering brewery current

 

Tasting Mendocino Brewing Company beers, especially its flagship Red Tail Ale, is taking a trip back to the early days of American craft brewing. That Mendocino Brewing, which back in 1983 was the first brewpub in California and second in the US since Prohibition, has survived and thrived is a real testimony to the leadership the brewery has had.

While the players have changed through the years, the man charged with keeping Mendocino Brewing relevant in today's competitive craft beer market is company president and CEO Yashpal Singh.

"You have a brewery In wine country and you are competing as a business with wine,” says Singh. "You have to be more than 100 percent to be in this place. It builds up the spirit of reaching perfection."

"I do think being in the wine country is a plus," he adds, "in the sense that the area is known for producing quality wines. The emphasis on quality is engrained into the people of the area. It's an attitude that we get in the people who work for us. They are very quality conscious."

Singh feels this emphasis on quality has helped the Mendocino brand maintain its edge. He also feels that craft beers are benefitting from wine drinkers who are more and more including craft beers among their beverage preferences.

Wine drinkers support new beer styles

Especially in last few years Singh has seen more movement to craft beer by wine drinkers, and he believes it is helping drive some new beer styles.

"There are many wine drinkers who have graduated into craft beer," he observes. "And because they are used to higher alcohol, they tend to gravitate toward the bigger beers, that are still a lot less expensive than good wine. There is a shift in the craft brewing industry toward stronger beers, and they are becoming reasonably popular."

Not one to be left out, Singh introduced a line of Imperial-strength Mendocino beers that have been doing well in the market. These complement a line up that already included the strong ale Eye of the Hawk (8.0% abv), which is a beer with a taste that wine drinkers could easily fall in love with.

Singh also feels the flexible seasonal beer strategies have greatly helped the craft beer industry.

"Craft brewers can roll out inexpensively a wide variety of new and changing products," he says, contrasting that to the relative inflexibility of large breweries and wineries. "It gives us a big advantage."

Another growing influence he notices is beer and food pairing.

"Wine has always been paired with food,” he explains. “Now there is a change in the beer industry that sees craft beer also being paired with food. This is catching on in a very significant way." 

He says it extends beer's uses even into cooking. To support and encourage beer cuisine, Mendocino also markets a line of specialty food products containing its beer. Red Tail Ale BBQ Sauce is one example. Singh believes these products help people make the link of beer with food.

Managing ups and downs

"We are one of the pioneers in the craft beer renaissance," says Singh, and that means the brewery has experienced the ups and downs of the craft brewing industry.

"Back in 1995 when the craft beer segment was really growing at a fast pace, there was a lot of expectation around it," he says. But then things went flat for quite a few years. The current surge in popularity of the past few years is a welcomed thing by breweries such as Mendocino. It has allowed them the opportunity to expand their business and distribution footprint.

Mendocino Brewing is ready for this growth, in large part due to investments made in the late 1990s that gave it state-of-the-art production facilities in both Ukiah, CA and Saratoga Springs, NY. This capacity has allowed it flexibility to seek new kinds of business.

Seeing an opportunity to expand into the fast-growing organic space last year, Singh says that Mendocino added Butte Creek Brewing to its already formidable portfolio. Produced since 1998, Butte Creek products are handcrafted award winning organic ales and lagers focused on quality, balance, and true hop flavor. Singh says the line helps support organic farming and promote sustainability in their community.

"We are also doing contract brewing for several other beer brands, including organic ones,"  Singh explains as he talks about the different ways his craft brewery builds business. Additionally, Mendocino does bottling for the Sonoma County-based Ace Ciders.

"Over the years we do expect that we will have more good brewers coming to us to get their products brewed, especially when we offer two breweries—one on the East Coast and one on the West— that also have expandable capacity."

Local support appreciated

Singh says Mendocino Brewing receives a lot of support from locals including those in the wine industry. That led the brewery to recently open a new, larger Mendocino Brewing Ale House just up the road from its Ukiah brewery.

"The sense of competition is not to run down each other," he states thoughtfully. "The sense of competition is to do better than the other."

This philosophy goes a long way toward explaining why Mendocino Brewing Company is both an industry pioneer and a popular brand today in this ever evolving industry.

Additional information is available on the Mendocino Brewing Company profile page.

 

PHOTO KEY

Top: The original Mendocino Brewing location was California’s first brewpub.

2nd Top: Yashpal Singh (left), CEO, and Don Tubbs, brewery manager, in the 100-barrel brewhouse.

3rd Top: The brewery is filled with high quality equipment.

4th Top: Eye of the Hawk is a deliciously malty strong ale.

5th Top: Mendocino Brewing markets a nice line of Red Tail Ale specialty  food items including marinades, mustards and barbecue sauces.

6th Top: A variety of branded merchandise is sold at the company's Ale House.

7th Top: Sampler sets are a great way to go at the Mendocino Brewing Ale House.

Photo Credits

All photos by Charles Bockway for Wine Country Beer.

Yashpal Singh