Sometimes the best way to make money isn't always the best way to do business.
Daniel Del Grande, owner of Bison Organic Beers in Berkeley, refuses to cut corners to make an extra buck. He says using more expensive organic ingredients, for example, is one key to his success.
"It's a point of pride. I want to operate in a way that we can be proud of," says Del Grande, 42.
Officially, he calls himself a contract brewer who uses space at other facilities -- Mendocino Brewing Co. in Ukiah and Black Diamond Brewing Co. in Concord -- to concoct the batches that flow into dozens of grocery stores and restaurants in the Bay Area and in 15 states.
In 1997, he bought Bison Brewing Co. on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley with his family to parlay skills he had learned through a UC Davis brewmaster class. But he found running that operation was more restaurant than brewery. In 2003, he closed the restaurant and began to run it as a microbrewery. In 2008, it was closed completely, and the product itself became the business. The name was changed to Bison Organic Beers.
That shift has proved successful. Last year, Bison brought in $800,000 in revenue and sold about 52,000 cases, nearly double the production and revenue of 2009, Del Grande says.
The signature facet of his beer is that it's all organic. He also requires each of the sites that carries his product to have an effective glass-recycling program.
Most importantly, he makes
"The key is consistency," Del Grande says. "You can't put out a single bad beer, because those bad reviews stay online forever."
Whether it's his Gingerbread Ale, India Pale Ale or an Organic Chocolate Stout, Del Grande personally has a hand in the process, putting in the ingredients and tasting each batch for consistency.
This, he says, is one of the biggest differences between a brewer and a winemaker. Where winemakers are often at the mercy of the crop, consistency is something Del Grande has control over.
"Beer is really a product of intent," he says. "I am able to make sure every bottle tastes exactly the same each year."
Bison is part of the California Small Brewers Association, which consists of independent brewers who produce 6 million barrels or fewer. Because craft brewers don't mass produce, they typically are able to be creative with what they make.
Next month, Del Grande will take a marmalade class so he can learn how to make a beer out of the citrus rinds themselves. Once he has the recipe, he'll test it out in small brew quantities at the restaurants before putting it out to the masses.
Eric Tucker, executive chef of Millennium restaurant in San Francisco, says the Bison Beer that's most popular in his establishment is the Chocolate Stout.
"It's local, it's organic, and it's a really solid beer," Tucker says. "The Chocolate Stout has been a benchmark for us."
Not only do they pour it to drink, the restaurant also makes an ice cream out of the Chocolate Stout.
Tom McCormick, executive director of the California Small Brewers Association, says that the craft-brewing industry is the strongest category in the alcohol beverage industry.
"I think they're doing well because many people are doing a tradeover from cocktails and wine to a good beer," McCormick said. "Where a good glass of wine can be $15 or more, you can have some of the best beer in the world for $5 a glass."
Owner: Daniel Del Grande