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!”

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