November 2017 By Elizabeth Smith
One of my first weekend trips to Placer County, California, included a stop at GoatHouse Brewing, which recently celebrating four years in business.
A few visits later, after their Farm Yoga experience, I caught up with co-owner, Catherine Johnson, about what it’s like to live the dream: owning a craft brewery which produces its own hops and raises its own goats, far removed from her past life living in the San Francisco Bay Area.
How did GoatHouse Brewing come about? Why goats and beer?
Michael and I were in the Bay Area rat race and knew we wanted something different for our life and young family. We met and fell in love over beer, and Michael has brewed since before he was old enough to buy (now over 30 years)! We knew we wanted space and a great community to raise our family. Being connected to where our food (or beer in this case) comes from has always been important — food or beer just doesn’t magically appear in the grocery store. I make cheese, so goats were the obvious choice. Hops are needed as beer isn’t beer without hops, and thus, the dream began!
Why Placer County/Lincoln, California?
We looked all over the state of California and we fell in love with the schools, community, and competitive landscape around us. We wanted rural farmland, yet close enough to city comforts and school sports, etc. The farmland around us is rich with mandarins, lavender farms, wineries, and many other innovative uses.
Why did you decide to offer farm yoga with the goats? Has it been successful? In what ways?
Farm Yoga evolved because we have tons of goats and beer! A good friend was recently certified as a yoga instructor, we got to talking (and maybe having a cold one), and the idea took shape. Farm Yoga at GoatHouse has been very well received and hopefully people enjoy it as much as we do! Animals don’t fake affection — when they choose to spend time with you, enjoying a rub, nibbling on edge of shirt, enhancing a stretch, etc. — it is genuine.
Approximately much and how many different beers do you produce annually?
GoatHouse Brewing is a 3BBL nano-brewery. We grow 20 different varieties of hops. We brew small-batch seasonal beer as a farm brewery based in agriculture. We use 90% of the hops we grow onsite, bringing in only those that are proprietary and patented. We also use seasonal fruit from our orchard such as mandarins. Most years, we brew 40-50 different styles, with only one being on tap 100% of the time, Darkside, our stout, our favorite to drink and brew! The rest comes and goes with the season.
How do you come up with the names of your beers, such as Wet N’ EZ, Honey Baby, Jackin’ Jill, Amberillo, Philip D’Glass, and Dirtbag Red?
Songs, life, kids, inside jokes, nicknames, family, riffs on just about anything. Typically, it starts a bit inappropriate, some vetoing that goes on, then we lock in and go!
We are craft beer manufacturers and hop farmers, so at least two businesses rolled into one, but beer helps make the world go around!
Do you have children and are they involved in the business?
We have two kids, Nolan, 14 and Amelia, 11. They help with Farm Yoga and most of the critter care on the farm. Nolan is on a USA swim team and he’s thankfully strong to haul hay bales. Amelia has no fear and can wrangle a goat like no one’s business (might be from her competitive soccer playing skills). They also grow pumpkins and have a farm stand in the brewery where they pick fruit from the onsite orchard, or veggies from our large garden to sell. They save their money to buy new seeds for the next year or something special.
Tell me more about the goats. What kind of goats, etc.? Do you produce (or sell) any goat products such as milk and cheese?
The goats are all dairy goats. The plan was to open a small-batch dairy, but currently the regulations are hundreds of thousands of dollars and price prohibitive, so we are not licensed, nor do we sell any milk products. All hope is not lost, but development is currently on pause. In the meantime, we eat a lot of cheese with our beer! Our daughter has three Nigerian dwarf goats from 4H and their milk is like heavy cream. Alpines and La Manchas make up the bulk of the herd and their milk is sweet and plentiful – no funky aftertaste. Despite their reputation, our goats are very picky eaters and VERY spoiled.
What are the challenges you face as a local craft brewer?
Being one of the only true farm-to-tap breweries in the State of California – where the farming and brewing happen on the same land – has been challenging as the government isn’t really set up for innovation or the unknown. Being tenacious and the first to market has been character building as my mother says! We are craft beer manufacturers and hop farmers, so at least two businesses rolled into one, but beer helps make the world go around!
Do you sell your beers only at the brewery?
The majority, yes. Since we are based in agriculture, production is limited. The old farming model was that the farms brought food to the people. Today, people like to come to the farms to see where everything is produced. It’s a connection that has been lost in society that we are hoping to rebuild. People don’t know how hops grow, so it’s a bonus to share the knowledge while they are enjoying a beer on the farm.
What other events do you offer at the brewery?
We are starting to work on some beer pairing events with local farmers and a fantastic farm-to-table chef. More to come, so stay tuned!
Is GoatHouse Brewing everything you dreamed it would be?
GoatHouse Brewing is exactly and more than what we planned extensively for and dreamed of. Our unique business model, as the first in the state, has been very well received and our passion and love for what we do, we hope, shines through. With all the planning we did, the one thing that surprised us, and continues to surprise us, is the outpouring of love and support from our customers. It is truly staggering and we are honored to be part of so many celebrations: engagements on a regular day in the brewery, baby showers, and birthday parties for the young and old.
600 Wise Road, Lincoln CA | email@example.com | Goathousebrewing.com
Michael and Catherine Johnson | Tasting Room open Thurs, Fri, Sat & Sun
Elizabeth Smith is a French and Spanish professor turned wine professional. In 2013, her part-time role as executive assistant to a wine broker and importer became her stepping stone into the wine business. She moved to the Napa Valley from Virginia in January 2014 to begin her new full-time winery career. Elizabeth holds a doctoral degree in community college education from George Mason University as well as Wine & Spirit Education Trust’s advanced wine certification. She is currently the wine club and social media manager at Ehlers Estate and writes about wine tourism and wine for various online media outlets, usually while sipping wine with her cat, Einstein, by her side.