One of the first things you’ll notice when you visit GoatHouse Brewing is the owners mean business. Turning off Wise Road onto their gravel driveway, you soon enter the main yard and see the prominent red barn – the home of the GoatHouse brewery and tasting room.
Rebuilt in 2013, the barn sports a smooth concrete floor, large open doorways at both ends, restrooms, brewing equipment and a comfortable tasting area. A vintage juke box plays from one end of the large, open room. The abundance of repurposed lumber dominates the aestetic. In the case of the large wooden tables and benches, the wood has been “re-repurposed.” More about the tables later.
Cathy and Michael Johnson take their business seriously – but they obviously are having fun in the process. However, fun doesn’t come easy. Their story is one of planning, perseverence, vision, frustration, flexibility, hard work and satisfaction.
Cathy and Michael both grew up in the bay area. They lived in Alameda and worked in “corporate America” in Silicon Valley for 20 years. Commuting consumed 3 1/2 hours each day with 80-hour work weeks. Cathy said, “We never saw each other and lived for those 12 days a year of vacation where you could reconnect. We didn’t want the rat race and so we decided to flip that model on its head. We asked ourselves, ‘What if we do 12 days of “sucky” and 300 and some-other days of soul-filling work?'”
The Johnsons looked closely at their own skills and dreams and chose nano-brewing with an agricultural component. They began looking for a business location in Alameda, but they knew they always wanted land for gardening and raising goats.
“We were going to start small where we lived in Alameda. We were also looking for land at the same time. We wanted space, livestock, goats and a garden. We couldn’t do that on our .17 acre urban yard in Alameda,” said Cathy.
Most important to the Johnsons, they wanted to find good schools for their two young children. They widened the search to include Santa Rosa, Sonoma and Sonora. Their research was analytical and intentional; it spanned five years and they considered more than 100 properties. They carefully assessed potential locations in view of competitive landscapes, school districts, civic support and way-of-life.
They chose Placer County and were soon seriously considering their current location, which was available at the time. As much as they loved the property, before closing the purchase the Johnsons approached the county to be sure a brewery/tasting room was legally feasible. The county officials originally were unsure how to classify the GoatHouse business model since they were the first to focus on both brewing and agriculture.
The process took several months. Cathy said, “Placer County changed the wine ordinance to include breweries who are growing agricultural components, not just a regular brewery, and mead makers, people who make fermented honey wine from honey. As soon as we got the green light, then we bought and proceeded.” She added, “We changed laws.”
Cathy and Michael finalized their purchase of 600 Wise Road in 2010.
The original rickety agricultural barn was rebuilt into the brewery and tasting room. They repurposed the exterior redwood siding and used it for the interior wall treatments of the barn. The old horse stall dividers were constructed of heavy wood which yielded a fun surprise: the wood was originally used as the seats at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco.
“The boards from the horse stalls were painted with multiple coats of paint and just thrashed wood,” said Cathy. “We started seeing numbers in the wood but it wasn’t really obvious at first.”
Michael continued, “We met the guy who built the barn originally. We were pouring beer at the Lincoln Showcase and he came up to introduce himself. He said he got the wood for free and built the horse stalls out of it. With such a cool back story we kept it all, sanded it, made the tables and benches, the bar, the bathrooms, as much as we could.”
Once the barn was ready and the beer was brewed, GoatHouse Brewing opened for business in September 2013.
Cathy said, “We’ve had huge support from the community through all the planning. People are finding us, even though we’re off the beaten trail.” She said their clientele includes young single people and parents, empty-nesters, farmers, and bicyclists.
“The customers who come in are super-friendly, happy that we’re here, and very supportive,” said Michael. “They’re genuinely nice people. They respond to what we’re doing, not just to the beer but to the experience they have when they come out here. They get to see where beer is made, and parts of the ingredients and where they’re grown. We want to give people the experience of walking through a hallway of hops, pick a hop, drink the beer that it’s made from, and get the whole circle-of-life.”
Michael brews the beer in small batches with each batch yielding six kegs of beer. Even at that pace, he is able to keep seven varieties on tap at one time, ranging from the popular “Jagged Little Pils” on the light end to “Darkside”, a full-bodied stout beer.
The beer flavors reveal Michael’s curious and artistic side. The recipe inspirations come to him in many ways. “The recipe ideas could come from food pairings, different seasonings, an interesting name, or whatever we have on hand that’s in season,” he said. “Right now we have a couple of citrus beers on tap. During the summer months we’ll have some more stone fruit, and maybe some peppers. That will be some inspiration for beers as well.”
The “Cream Sickle” ale is made from fresh vanilla bean and citrus from their orchard. The idea was inspired by watching their kids eat an ice cream treat.
GoatHouse Brewing is located along Placer County’s Wine Trail. Michael said, “A lot of people don’t even know that this area of Placer County exists. They live a mile or two away and didn’t know that any of this is out here. There are a lot of amazing things that people are doing out here.”
Cathy added, “The artisan craftsmanship out here is a wealth of talent. This is a mecca of agriculture, metal sculptors, olive oils, cheeses, wines and farm stands. We’ve met a lot of people in Lincoln, Roseville and Rocklin and they’re surprised to find out that they didn’t know all this is in their backyard, 5, 10, 15 minutes from their house.”
Even though they’ve left the corporate lifestyle, the hard work continues. They frequently put in 18-hour days.
Michael reflected, “It was a lot of work, and a lot of time to come up with this business plan and flesh out the logistics. To implement that in an area that hasn’t done this before was a little challenging. We persevered.”
Cathy said, “It’s been very, very hard, but we still completely believe in it. It’s amazingly rewarding.”
Michael joked, “The 3 1/2 hour commute changed to a 40-yard walking commute.”
GoatHouse Brewing is located at 600 Wise Road, Lincoln CA (Google map).
Tasting room hours: Thursday and Friday, 2-6pm; and Saturday and Sunday, 11am-4pm.
Phone: (916) 740-9100. Call for tasting-room reservations.
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