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Mary Bullwinkel

Beacon Correspondent

Eel River Brewery co-owner Margaret Frigon said it was a complete shock and surprise when she heard the brewery had been named 2013 Business of the Year by the Fortuna Chamber of Commerce.

”I was also very excited about being selected as the business of the year,” she said. Her business partner and ERB co-owner, Ted Vivatson said the same. “I was surprised,” he said, “and very honored.”

”The local community and our loyal customers have brought us to where we are today,” Frigon said. “It is the regulars, the local folks that help us keep the doors open.” she added.

Eel River Brewery was started by Frigon and Vivatson in 1995. They bought the property, the site of the former Clay Brown Redwood Mill, in 1994. After groundbreaking in May 1995, they opened the doors to the community in December of that year.

Much has changed over the last 17-plus years. The brewery won its first medal in 1997, when one of its flagship ales, Ravensbrau Porter, won a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival. Over the years, Eel River Brewery has collected many more awards from the GABF, the California State Fair, the Humboldt County Fair, and the Australian International Beer Competition.

Five years after the brewery opened, it produced its first Certified Organic Amber Ale. “It was the first certified organic beer not only on the North Coast, but in all of California,” Vivatson said. He described the decision to go organic as a commitment to provide wholesome products to customers.

Today, Eel River Brewery produces all-organic ales, including the seasonal double IPA Earth Thirst and Climax California Classic, along with Acai Berry Wheat, Amber, California Blonde, IPA, Porter, Raven's Eye Stout, and Triple Exultation.

Brewing capacity was expanded in 2007, when space was acquired in The Pacific Lumber Company's Mill A building in Scotia. “When Scotia came into the picture, we were able to expand our brewing capacity by about 300% from where we had been,” Vivatson said.

ERB supports many community causes by donating logo merchandise, award-winning brews, and gift certificates for meals to many fundraisers raising money for youth sports, education, and environmental projects, to name a few. For several years, the month of April was dedicated to “Bring Back the Water to the Eel,” with a portion of sales that month donated to the Friends of the Eel River.

The recent Earth Day celebration at Eel River Brewery was a big success, and customers can expect more special events in the future. The hope is to have a special gathering at least once every three months. One such gathering coming up will be something along the lines of Wine under the Stars -- not something you'd expect at a brewery. Frigon said the event will get the community involved in sampling wine and selecting what the new wine list will be (ERB serves both beer and wine). That event should take place in early summer, although no specific date has been set.

The latest marketing effort is the distribution of a new line of screen printed 22-ounce bottles of Triple Exultation and Raven's Eye Stout. The bottles have been designed with the cellaring enthusiast in mind, featuring a screen printed (not paper) labels and with the release year prominently displayed on the neck of the bottle.

Eel River Brewing Company will receive the honor for being the 2013 Business of the Year at the Fortuna Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner on Monday, April 29 at the River Lodge. For more information, call the chamber at 725-3959.

Photo by Mary Bullwinkel/Beacon

Ted Vivatson and Margaret Frigon show off the most recent Great American Beer Festival (2012) silver medal awarded to the Triple Exultation Ale.