High ‘hops’ for the future of craft beer

By VICTORIA CISNEROS, Student Writer

Tioga-Sequoia Brewing Company has been the “anchor” of downtown Fresno’s Fulton District for the past eight years, crafting brews and creating an atmosphere of cultural crossroads. Michael Cruz (2009), the company’s current president, has helped Tioga-Sequoia maintain its commitment to the community since the very first day it opened.

Cruz shied away from traditional college-level beers during his days as a business administration marketing student and embraced his passion for craft beer. At the same time, he was eager to find a career that would challenge his creativity and give him a sense of community. As a college senior, Cruz interned for a local distributor who was working with Tioga-Sequoia’s ownership group to bring the brand to market and found a company that would come to feel like home.

“They were looking for college students that would be interested in shaping the brand … and finding out how it would interact with consumers on a level that was more grassroots,” said Cruz. “….At the end of it, I graduated, and I went to the ownership and basically explained that I wanted to do this…”

At its birth, Tioga had only a handful of employees and roughly 7,000 square feet of production space. During the early years, Cruz, while still officially named brand manager, found himself juggling most aspects of the company.

“I was sales. I was designing things for marketing. I dealt with a lot of the accounting, all the paperwork, all that stuff in the beginning, and now my role has slowly evolved into managing all of it and being more of a decision maker and creative influencer…”

As the company began to expand, especially with the opening of its outdoor beer garden in 2014, Cruz became a more pivotal player in the success.

“Between me and my team… we had a lot of learning to overcome in the very beginning,” said Cruz. “Our beer is great, but our brand and our influence in the community with how we represent those brands in the things that we do are a big part of our identity, and I feel like I’ve had probably the most influence on that end…”

The 30,000 square foot outdoor beer garden offers an urban, homey vibe that draws flocks of every feather. For Cruz, one of the most exciting parts of his job is knowing that the brand serves different demographics “from not only all over Fresno but all over the Valley.”

Cruz says that Tioga was always meant to be a local brand and a community builder that people could get behind. He is hesitant to take Tioga’s beer outside of California knowing that the focus has always been on “honoring some of the things that we’re proud of here in the valley.”

Cruz has evolved as a business professional in his many years with Tioga and hopes to drive the company toward future success. This summer, the brewery will partner with Fresno State’s Downtown Center to offer classes in sensory tasting as a means of educating home brewers and beer enthusiasts alike.

Keeping in the spirit of community building, Cruz hopes that Tioga can eventually partner with Fresno State to create a “full-fledged academic course” where students might have the opportunity to become a certified brewer and “potentially brew on a professional system.”

“I think craft beer is getting to that point where Fresno State could evolve another department,” said Cruz. “And there’s enough breweries now, and there definitely will be by that time, where I think the market can support something like that …I think that would be a cool new thing that I would love to eventually get our brewery involved in with Fresno State.”

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