It was the “absolute worst time” to quit a steady job without a backup plan in early 2009, as the shockwaves of the great recession were still reverberating. But Collin McDonnell scraped together the cash and the team to turn a hobby into what today is fast-growing HenHouse Brewing Company.
“All I was doing was homebrewing,” said McDonnell, 32, who had been working as a communications consultant before getting sick of it. He jumped into beer headlong, eventually meeting co-founders Scott Goyne and Shane Goepel, who were operating a sophisticated home-scale brewhouse they built themselves. “The second I got into the industry, I started working on opening a brewery.”
North Bay Business Journal recognized McDonnell in the Small Brewery Owner category of the Wine Industry + Spirits & Beer Awards at an event Nov. 28.
Santa Rosa-based HenHouse in its six years in business has grown to produce 5,000 barrels a year and is on pace to double that in 2018, according to McDonnell. Early next year, HenHouse plans to return to its roots in Petaluma, opening “The Palace of Barrels” in the 8,000-square-foot former location of Petaluma Hills Brewing Company at 1333 N. McDowell Blvd.
The existing brewpub at 322 Bellevue Ave. in Santa Rosa will continue to focus on fresh beers, while the Petaluma taproom will expand the selection of beers to include barrel-aged, “funky” and sour fermentation.
That’s where HenHouse moved from the two-barrel system Goyne had built for the first commercial brews in 2012 to an alternating proprietorship arrangement with Petaluma Hills in 2013. The trio started with $30,000 and on nights, weekends and “a lot of hope.”
The Petaluma taproom is projected to employ 15. That will bring the company to 45 employees, up from just the founders two years ago.
“You can’t double sales year over year without a strong plan and a good vision,” McDonnell said. “Starting tiny as we did made us focus on where we are going to go long-term because we knew we couldn’t stay that small. We say all the time we are a plan-based business, in that we establish goals and work backwards on getting from plan A to plan B.”
The Santa Rosa microbrewery can be scaled up to produce 40,000 barrels annually, making it about half the size of Bear Republic Brewing of Healdsburg and Cloverdale.
“Our intention is not to be a tiny company,” McDonnell said.
HenHouse and other small brewers are benefitting from “relocalization” of beer, where consumers are seeking beers made less than 100 miles away, he noted.
Growth of U.S. craft beer last year was 6.2 percent by volume and 10 percent by value, while sales of beer overall was flat, according to the Colorado-based trade group Brewers Association. Craft beer had 12.3 percent share of the 196.7 million barrels of beer sold and nearly 22 percent of the $107.6 billion in sales.
“There is not a lot more craft beer being drunk. There is more local craft beer,” McDonnell said.