HenHouse Brewing Embraces Petaluma, Plot Path Away From Hoppy Neighbor

From left to right: Scott Goynes, Shane Goepel & Colin McDonnell / Photos © Brian Stechschulte

Fermentation tanks are reshaping Petaluma’s skyline and chicken egg capital reputation thanks to Lagunitas Brewing. Their popularity and brewing capacity, which currently ranks ninth by volume among craft brewers in the Unites States, casts a long hoppy shadow over aspiring nanobreweries in the city. In spite of the challenge, HenHouse Brewing has begun to craft its own unique identity inside an old egg processing facility just blocks from downtown Petaluma.

“One of the biggest difficulties we have right now is explaining to people the size of our operation. If we’re lucky will do one hundred barrels of production this year, which is what Lagunitas does in four hours.” That’s what Colin McDonnell and his brewery partners, Scott Goyne and Shane Goepel, tell locals who think they’re going to be the next Lagunitas. It’s certainly possible, but they’re charting a different path.

HenHouse Brewing was incorporated in March of 2011 and started shipping beer to stores and bars around Petaluma this past January. They currently sublease space for brewing and storage inside Rogue Research, a firm known for producing dietary supplements, cosmetics and soap.

The facility is well equipped for brewing. Goepel and Goyne currently work for Rogue, which gave them an inside track on the brew space. They spent two years homebrewing there on weekends before teaming up with McDonnell, who’s been honing his skills for the same amount of time at the Beach Chalet, 21st Amendment and Devil’s Canyon, before recently accepting a position at Drake’s

The nanobrewery came to fruition after they approached Rogue about subleasing some space to go pro, who in turn offered them a very affordable lease. There are only a few workable drawbacks to the arrangement. They can only work on weekends. Their two-barrel mash tun, kettle and fermenters have to be wheeled in and out of the production space, then locked in cages at the end of the day to meet licensing requirements. Even after all that, according to McDonnell, “We would have been fools to not take this opportunity.”

Once they had a space to brew, settling on a brewery name was the next big decision. HenHouse Brewing pays homage to Petaluma’s agricultural heritage, but it wasn’t their first choice. McDonnell explained:

“When we were pulling together our corporate application we had all these brainstorming sessions and came up with all sorts of names, from Petaluma Brewing Company to a more pretentious name like Oak Hill Cellars. We eventually settled on a different name and when we were literally folding up the application and putting it in the envelope Shane said, ‘What do you guys think about HenHouse Brewing Company?’ And we were all like, ‘that’s way better!’ It was at the exact last second possible and it worked out great.”

Their mash tun’s former life was spent working as an essential oil extractor.

When it comes to making beer, all three partners bring a different sensibility to the table. Goyne is a certified herbalist and self-proclaimed mad scientist. He leans towards experimentation and sometimes goes to great lengths for ingredients, like kayaking off the Mendocino coast to gather sea salt on an island. Goepel is the tinkerer who dabbles in the minutiae of recipes and McDonnell said he keeps beer moving out the door.

Their first several batches of beer to hit the shelf include a bottle conditioned Saison, Belgian Golden and Oyster Stout for local distribution. They’re also filling a few kegs, but draft is not their primary focus. Petaluma Taps could easily serve every drop of beer on tap they make, but it doesn’t fit their strategy for growth. They would like to see it get in front of a larger cross section of people, so bottles made more sense.

What they decided to produce was carefully considered. They deliberately chose styles that were diverse and underrepresented in the marketplace. Although they’re currently playing with an IPA, they initially steered clear of the style to avoid a quick comparison with Lagunitas right out of the gate.

McDonnell said, “We’re trying to do something that’s interesting and different without being unnecessarily challenging and weird, which is the balance you want to strike. You don’t want to be weird for being weird’s sake. You want to be different and interesting for the sake of standing out in a very crowded marketplace.

Starters for their oyster stout brew day.

They’re next concept just might do the trick. Imagine a double IPA that smells and tastes like a double IPA, but doesn’t contain any hops. It would essentially be a gruit that relies on Goyne’s intimate knowledge of herbs to imitate the aroma, flavor and bitterness profile of the popular style. It includes yarrow, Douglas fir tips, grapefruit peel and juice. It’s an ambitious project that could yield intriguing results.

Their oyster stout currently on shelves only utilizes the shell, but their now experimenting with the meat.

So far Petaluma has welcomed HenHouse with open arms. They’re supplying a steady stream of beer to a few accounts around town and feedback from the community has been positive. According to McDonnell, “People are excited that something new is happening and the Lagunitas guys have actually been super stoked about us. They’ve been really supportive.”

If business keeps on going strong, HenHouse would like to expand next year into a ten or fifteen barrel brewhouse. Right now they’re having fun, but as McDonnell explained, “In this facility we will never make enough money to pay any of us. We’re essentially donating our time to the business. People ask us if we’re making money and I tell them we have great cost savings on labor!”

New Film Explores San Francisco Brewing History

We’re living in a golden age of beer. Bars and stores are filled with a dizzying array of high quality choices produced by a growing number of breweries. The Bay Area helped lay the foundation and is blessed with a rich brewing tradition. In 1849, the Adam Schuppert Brewery started serving thirsty patrons in San Francisco. Since then, over 100 breweries have come and gone on the tip of the peninsula. In a new film directed by Jared Stutts, that glorious past will merge with the present in Brewers by the Bay.

According to Stutts, “The film is a cinematic tale of the past, present and future of San Francisco brewing, told by the owners and brewmasters themselves. It was written by Mike Pitsker, the Associated Editor of Celebrator Magazine, and is hosted by Brenden Dobel, the Brewmaster at ThirstyBear Brewing.”

The film is still in production and Stutts has launched an Indiegogo campaign to help defray the costs. Visit the page, check out the trailer and consider sparing a few bucks for a few tempting perks.

Stutts recently answered a few questions about the project over email.

Why did you choose to make a movie about the history of San Francisco brewing?

I chose to make a film on the history of beer in San Francisco because what a lot of people do not know is that the history of this wonderfully crafted product dates back to 1847 and that the first brewery that was established in California happened to be in San Francisco! There is also this common myth that beer is boring. This movie will introduce you to the brewers and you will get the chance to hear their personal stories. This is not a technical overview of how brewing is made so the demographic for this film is very wide!

What do you think sets San Francisco and the Bay Area brewing scene in general apart from the rest of the industry?

One of the greatest things that sets San Francisco apart from the rest of the industry is their collaborative spirit. Being that the nine active breweries have a guild also celebrates their success. I think the rest of the Bay Area is paying attention and will follow in their footsteps!

Have you made any surprising discoveries about the brewers or breweries you’ve been documenting?

You bet! However you will have to wait to see the film, though I can tell you that each brewer has shared their unique stories both personal and professional. Check out our Indiegogo campaign for exclusive behind the scenes clips of the brewers and owners talking about the Brewers by the Bay project, the San Francisco beer scene, and the importance of history and preservation.

What do you hope people take away from the film?

That San Francisco is a fantastic beer city! I hope the viewers will learn the unknown history of beer in San Francisco, the multitude of breweries contained in this small and diverse city, the passionate brewers who love their craft, and the complexity and innovation of the industry. My hope is that viewers will come to share this same passion, which the brewers, owners and craft beer enthusiasts feel for craft beer in the Bay Area.

Behind the Scenes Video Follows Kim Sturdavant Brewing at Social Kitchen

Videographer Mark Sandhoff has put together a wonderful film that follows Kim Sturdavant on a typical brew day at Social Kitchen. Kim recently filled the brewmaster position when Rich Higgins departed earlier this year. The video is more art house style, than 60 minutes profile, but gives the viewer a complete picture of the brewing process.

The music also happens to be delightful. It’s by Charles Iwegbue & His Archibogs, and the Apolos Empire Rhythm Orchestra. You can check it out here, but I highly suggest the larger viewing experience on Sandhoff’s Vimeo account. Enjoy.

Beltane Brewing Plans to Open Novato Brewery & Tasting Room this Summer

If you’ve been planning on taking a North Bay brewery tour later this year, you’ll soon have one more option to enjoy en route to Russian River. Alan Atha, brewer and owner of Beltane Brewing, has secured the necessary funding to make his production brewery and tasting room a reality. The facility will be located just off the 101 freeway in the Bel Marin Keys neighborhood of Novato.

You may remember our profile of Atha and his homebrewing exploits in August last year, which detailed an impending trip to Denver for the GABF Pro-Am Competition. He didn’t take home the big prize, but that clearly didn’t put a damper on his plans.

According to Atha, the necessary TTB and ABC paperwork will be filed soon, equipment is being purchased and renovations will be taking place over the coming months. The plan is for a grand opening in late summer, but he doesn’t want to make any exact predictions since the process could have some unexpected twists and turns (knock on wood).

There’s been a few bumps in the road already, but he hopes they’re behind him. Atha’s initial plans called for a cafe that would serve up cheese and charcuterie alongside the beer, but he couldn’t come to terms with the Marin County Health Department. Instead, local food options will be available that can be brought inside the future tasting room.

Atha is currently aiming to serve ten beers, which will include a few guest taps from breweries he admires. Kegs will also be available for wholesale clients and retail. In addition, future guests can expect growlers, while bottling remains a distant plan.

The project has been in the works for the last six months and he’s anxious to serve the throng of fans he’s acquired in the meantime. Atha said, “We know many of you have been eagerly awaiting our opening and we look forward to serving you!”


Alan Atha / Photo © Brian Stechschulte


Organic Beer Q&A with Bison Brewing’s Dan Del Grande

This Sunday marks the 42nd installment of Earth Day. Tree planting ceremonies, rallies and fairs promoting conservation will take place throughout the Bay Area. Craft beer drinkers can get into the act by heading over to the Organic Beer Revolution in Oakland on Saturday, where an impressive group of organic brewers will be taking over all the taps at Beer Revolution.

One of those brewers is Bison Brewing’s Dan Del Grande, who’s the leading proponent of organic beer in the Bay Area. His Twitter feed is a constant source of sustainability facts, organic beer revelations, and healthy lifestyle tips.

Organic beer has been experiencing impressive growth, but still faces a few challenges. Del Grande provided some insight by answering a few questions over email.

What’s preventing more breweries from switching over to organic ingredients? Is it cost, lack of education or the stigma of taste inferiority?

The biggest impediment for brewer’s switching to organic is securing a hop supply. You need several years of planning to attain significant amounts of hops. The next biggest impediment is realizing how much it costs to brew organically, since we can’t pass on the full cost to consumers to maintain the margins of typical craft beers. Organic brewers are in it for the passion, not the profit.

If a large number of breweries were willing to make the switch to organic, are there even enough producers of organic malt and hops?

No. It will take time to accommodate growth of organic beers. It takes a farmer 3 years of “transitional” agriculture where they spend all the money making barley and hops organically before they can label it as “organic”; this time lag is to let any chemicals in the earth dissipate. I expect farmers are planning on new “organic” organic growth gradually at something like 15-20% per year.

When some people hear the word organic, they equate it with higher prices. Is that true with beer and if so, how does the cost of organic ingredients affect how you brew if at all?

As I said, most organic beers are made with less margin in order to hit a price point of no more than $9.99 to 10.99/6-pack. The cost of our two row malt is 52 cents per pound and I think non-organic contract is something like 32 cents per pound.  Organic hops run from $12 to $19 per pound, whereas non-organic hops are at $4 to $8 per pound on contract. That’s why I don’t make a double IPA.

Incidentally, I can’t understand why people won’t pay $2 for a bottle of world class craft (non-organic) beer that takes two weeks to brew, keep cold, package in glass and colorful 6-pack cartons, while they’ll pay $3 for a hot 12 ounce cup of coffee served in a paper cup that took two minutes to brew. OK, rant over.

A few weeks ago you sent out the following tweet: “Brewing ingredients are like crayons. Organic brewers have less crayons in our box, but we can still draw the same pictures.” Less crayons makes it sounds like you’re limited in some way. Could you elaborate on this a bit more? 

I like to use the analogy that an organic brewer has 24 crayons in our box, the same 24 colors as non-organic brewer, so we can draw the exact same picture (and it will taste the exact same given the equivalent talent of the brewer). What non-organic brewers have is an additional 40 colors for highlights, like some specialty malts and hop varieties not (yet) available organically.  If you don’t like an organic beer, go blame the brewer, not the ingredients.

Where do you see the organic beer movement in 5 years? 

If beer trends like the organic food market, I expect organic beer to be 4% of the US Beer Market within 10 years, with dozens of brewers and a full compliment of 64 Crayola colors. In five years, 1.5% of the US Beer Market.

Dan Del Grande / Photo © Brian Stechschulte