Producing its ales in relative obscurity throughout most of its three-decade history, one of Southern California’s pioneering craft beer brands — Bayhawk Ales Inc. — is finally emerging from the shadows with a new name, a new management team and a renewed commitment to provide only the highest quality craft brews.
Bayhawk Ales was established in 1994 and produced its first products in early 1995, before craft giant Stone Brewing Co. and most other microbreweries in Southern California were producing beer. Bayhawk carved out a modest footprint supplying restaurants with house beers marketed to consumers under the restaurant’s name. As a result, most customers who drank Bayhawk beers in restaurants had no idea they were even consuming the company’s products.
Years later, another Southern California-based craft beer company was founded by Evans Rapport, and his line of Evans Lagers won a series of international beer awards. But as a new brand, Evans Brewing Co. needed a local brewery where its beers could be produced and a taproom where customers could taste its offerings.
Bayhawk Ales, with a 17-bbl brewery in Irvine, Calif., emerged as a potential partner for Evans Brewing Co. The brewery was contracted to produce some Evans beers, but the end result did not meet Rapport’s standards. At that time, Bayhawk was also seeking to bring in a majority investor and take the company private — it was “public,” but its stock had never traded on a public market and many of its shareholders had run out of patience.
The two beer brands could not agree on the details of an investment, so Evans Brewing Co. appealed directly to Bayhawk stockholders on a proposal to rebrand the company, make its products directly available to consumers, improve operations at the brewery and provide some value in exchange for their financial support of the company.
In December 2013, Bayhawk shareholders approved a new slate of directors, and the Evans team stepped in to run Bayhawk and implement the brand transition. Rapport began to manage the Bayhawk brewery housed in the McCormick & Schmick’s restaurant in Irvine and immediately made changes to improve operations. He improved the taste of the beers, increased the yield of the brewing process, increased distribution of the beers, decreased labor costs and turned it into a profitable operation.
While the company has begun the rebranding in earnest with Bayhawk labeling expected to be fully replaced by the more modern look of Evans Brewing Co. over the next several months, the evolution doesn’t stop there.
Evans Brewing Co. is currently evaluating options for expanded brewing capacity. The McCormick & Schmick’s site does not have room for additional production — Bayhawk traditionally stated its capacity at 10,000 bbls per year, but Rapport believes he could maybe push to as much as 15,000 bbls and that would be the limit in its current location. Also, the lease with the restaurant’s owners is coming to an end in less than four years.
To meet anticipated demand, Rapport plans to build a new brewery in Southern California. With increased capacity, Rapport can expand existing distribution relationships with restaurants and retail locations — expected to be marketed under the Evans name — while increasing production of additional Evans craft beers.
“There is room for Evans Brewing Company to service different segments of the beer market, including restaurant supply, retail and craft beer,” Rapport said. “Each segment has its favorites, and there is no reason that a brewery has to lose its integrity to serve a variety of consumers. The key — as always — is to serve great tasting beer.”
Plans are moving forward for an Evans Brewing taproom, expected to be opening in the next six months, where beer drinkers can sample Evans beers and learn more about the company.