Daniel Del Grande, Owner and Brewer of Bison Brewing Company, asks beer drinkers nationwide to raise a glass in good cheer and to give thanks to Bison's founder, brewpub pioneer, Bill Owens. Mr. Owens, along with Assemblyman Tom Bates (now Berkeley’s Mayor), introduced legislation in the 80's that legalized brewpubs in California. The legislation was replicated across the country. Brewing records show the first brew at Bison to be a Pale Ale on Sunday, February 26, 1989. Although Bill has moved on to other pursuits, we are still friends. "Thanks, Bill."
In 2003, after 14 years and 3 days, Bison closed the doors of one of the nation's oldest brewpubs. "I decided not to renew the lease because it was increasing from $4500 to $6222 per month. Not enough patrons = not enough cash." explains Del Grande. Bison instead focused on brewing its organic beer at the Berkeley brewhouse, leasing only the original 500 square feet of brewery space (photo nearby). But in 2007, the City of Berkeley found this out and revoked Bison's Zoning Permit; manufacturing in a retail district is a big "no-no" for city planners who worry about precedent setting. Owen's original brewpub legislation had allowed for a zoning exemption only when a pub was attached. The brewhouse was decommissioned, and the office was relocated down to Fifth Street in Berkeley.
Former patrons remember fondly Bison's brewpub as a funky place. Bill Owens had commissioned David Baker to build a wonderful, award-winning modern architecture building at the corner of Telegraph and Parker in Berkeley. When walking down Telegraph, some would describe Bison as "a place you heard before you saw." Music and local artists joined the tapestry of Berkeley life. Beer lovers know Bison for its brewers, who have a long history of innovation, using unique ingredients such as honey, sage, basil, chocolate, cranberry and coriander to augment the characteristics of beers primary ingredients: malt, yeast, water, and hops.
Today, at age 20, Bison sells organic beer in 12 states (and growing). Brewer Del Grande explains his strategy: "Until we have the sales volume to finance construction of a new brewery, I rely on my 12 years of boots-on brewing experience in Berkeley to manage contract brewers. The mainstay of brewing is a 3 year contract with Mendocino Brewing Company in Ukiah, CA, another pioneer in the American craft beer movement. I got their facility certified organic to produce my brews, and now each batch matches my specifications and their quality remains high. I'm proud to call it MY beer as if I still brew each drop. I'm focused on selling as much organic beer as I can to make the leap to the next stage of Bison's life."