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Meet the Beer Guy

Meet the Beer Guy. Picture of Dean Biersch, owner of Hopmonk Tavern. Photo by Hopmonk Tavern.Dean Biersch, owner, Hopmonk Tarvern. Photo by Hopmonk Tavern.

The link between majoring in international relations and a career in craft beer is not immediately clear, even for Dean Biersch (B.A., ’84), who made the leap from one to the other with dizzying success. " Well, let me see if I can connect the dots," says the co-founder of the Gordon Biersch brewpubs. "I really love to travel."

While the connection may be fuzzy, Biersch is clearer on how his education at SF State helped him get to the forefront of the craft beer revolution. "Marshall Windmiller was very influential. I learned a lot about research and presentation from him. We did pretty extensive research papers. Later, when I wrote business plans, that ability to really drill into the material stayed. It helped me articulate my vision for Gordon Biersch."

These days Biersch, who remains a consultant with Gordon Biersch but is no longer involved in its operations, is articulating the vision for a new beer-centric venture, the Hopmonk Tavern in Sebastopol. "Gordon Biersch was an amazing experience. I don’t regret any of it, but there was so much growth. I was on an airplane a lot," says Biersch, a single father of three.

The model for Hopmonk is considerably more low-key. "In the ’80s it was all about producing and selling beer on site—getting fresh beer out there. At the 20-year mark it’s more about finding the best in the market. We are at an all-time high and beer is uniformly good."

With the beer-making taken care of, Hopmonk concerns itself with atmosphere. "Beer is a really accessible beverage and the relaxed hospitality around beer is the kind of environment I like to create. It’s informal and fun."

Not that Biersch’s workload is exactly light these days. He is opening a second Hopmonk Tavern in a historic building in Sonoma, ("I like living in wine country and being the beer guy," he says), and he is heavily involved with the day-to-day workings of both projects, down to booking the bands and buying the recycled lumber.

Busy as he is, this scaled-down hospitality empire is perfect for a man who describes success as a seamless blend of professional, personal and family life. "Life really is just one great project," he says. "I’ve always tried to blur the line between what I’m interested in and what I do for a living. I’m really into music. I’m really into beer. I’m really into a more relaxed hospitality. All of that for me is where I’d rather be on my night off anyway: sitting in a beer garden with friends, listening to music with my kids running around."

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