HenHouse Brewing Co. takes the next step with its Marin County brewpub as it charts it growth in craft beer industry

A new location in Fairfax features a food menu including $15 duck liver pate and heart rillettes and toast topped with hand-foraged mushrooms.|

The evolution of HenHouse Brewing Co. since its founding more than a decade ago is evident in its newest project that just opened: A revamped brewpub in the bucolic community of Fairfax in west Marin County.

The facility, purchased from Iron Springs Pub & Brewery last October, features a large dining hall, its own brewing system and a kitchen that allows the Santa Rosa-based company to offer fare beyond typical bar food.

Notably, the menu has burgers but also such selections as a plate with duck liver pate and heart rillettes and toast topped with hand-foraged mushrooms and porcini-mascarpone cheese ― both at $15 a plate.

But don’t worry, local beer fans. HenHouse has not suddenly gone upper crust.

It’s just the newest wrinkle in the brewery’s quest in trying to deliver the best experience to its customers in a craft beer environment that has drastically changed since it started from its home-brewing roots, said Collin McDonnell, co-founder and chief executive officer.

“We are really focusing on how can we bring some locality to the food? Not necessarily in some over the top way. But more like we’re from here, and we want to support businesses from here, and it also happens that everything that is delicious is also from here,” McDonnell said.

Sonoma County is home to more than two dozen breweries, including some of the most well-regarded and prominent in the country. On that list: Russian River Brewing Co. of Windsor, as well as leading purveyors of the hoppy India Pale Ale (IPA) beer style, such as Lagunitas Brewing Co. of Petaluma.

HenHouse is part of the second generation of these breweries that have followed in the footsteps of some the legendary brands.

But its popularity and growth have stood out on its own, and the brewery is now a top attraction for visitors across the region and country. The Santa Rosa facility is located at 322 Bellevue Ave just south of auto dealerships along Highway 101.

The business activity also has led it to open a Petaluma taproom and sponsor a beer festival where all the beers that are sold are less than seven days old. This year’s event will be June 25 at SOMO Village in Rohnert Park. The brewery produced 18,000 barrels of beer last year and has targeted 23,000 for 2022, McDonnell said.

“I have watched other breweries and watched some fail … that it’s even more impressive how they been able to expand,” said Peter Lopez Jr. owner of Juncture Taproom & Lounge in Santa Rosa, which serves HenHouse on draft.

“They certainly put their money where their mouth is when it comes to quality,” he said.

The dedication to ensuring quality has been a hallmark of the brewery founded by McDonnell, Shane Goepel and Scott Goyne, the latter who is no longer with the company. HenHouse largely self-delivers its beers, arriving refrigerated to the 700 retail and bars and restaurants in the greater Bay Area. Its four-packs also do not sit on refrigerated shelves more than 28 days.

The attention to detail also carries over to the ingredients used in its brews, such as a specialty grain for its saison that costs much more than traditional ones and using oysters from Hog Island and hand-harvested sea salt to produce their oyster stout. It sources its barley locally from Admiral Malt of Alameda.

In fact, the brewery started out highlighting its saison ― an ale that is more fruitier with hints of pepper ― as its flagship. But HenHouse was able to pivot to put out IPAs as that style became the overwhelming popular choice for craft beer fans.

In fact, the brewery’s biggest seller is its namesake IPA with about 20% of overall production, and it also offers a series of rotating IPAs based on different hop formulas, which has proven to be extremely popular and keeps fans interested in the brand and visiting its taprooms on a weekly basis.

“If you want to play in the IPA game, you have to really bring a high-quality beer to the table,” McDonnell said.

That transition impressed Brian Hunt, founder of Moonlight Brewing Co. in Santa Rosa, who has carved out a niche of producing world-class lager beers along with more hoppy brews.

“Saisons were a very big deal when they (HenHouse) started, and then people just stopped wanting saisons. It’s like hemlines,” Hunt said. “You have to go to what consumers want. Consumers change their mind seasonally.”

The other notable aspect of HenHouse is its progressive business ethos. The brewery put out a special IPA called “Vote for the New Green Deal” in support of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s pro-environmental legislation. It pays its 125 employees a living wage and provides 100% of the health care coverage for its full-time workers along with a 401(k) plan.

“People who work here longer get better at their jobs. I think we probably retain people a little bit longer,” said McDonnell, a 36-year-old who has lived in Petaluma most of his life.

He said about 10% of its workforce left California during the first year of the pandemic, moving to areas with a lower cost of living.

“We’re very sensitive of that because we want to take care of our employees,” McDonnell said.

But that has been a challenge with supply chain issues as the price of ingredients that goes into its beers has gone up 25% over the past six months, McDonnell said. The price of an aluminum can has gone up from 14 cents at the start of the pandemic to approximately 20 cents now.

Still, on any difficult decision, McDonnell says the company relies on its mission statement to create meaningful employment; to improve beer quality; and to create wealth for its community around Sonoma County.

“Anytime there's like a tough thing we need to do, we are like, what's best for the team? What's best for the beer? What's best for our shareholders?” he said. “If you approach every single problem like that, there is still hard stuff to do, but you don’t have to waste any time hemming and hawing.”

The business is primarily owned by friends and families and has a few professional investors as minority partners. It has been able to grow through bank financing, such as some strategic loans with Live Oak Bank.

The brewery raised the price of its beer in 2021 and will again this year to manage costs, McDonnell said.

“I’m proud of what we’re paying our employees and how we are taking care of our employees, but we are definitely feeling that pinch from both directions,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or bill.swindell@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @BillSwindell.

Bill Swindell

Business, Beer and Wine, The Press Democrat  

In the North Coast, we are surrounded by hundreds of wineries along with some of the best breweries, cidermakers and distillers. These industries produce an abundance of drinks as well as good stories – and those are what I’m interested in writing. I also keep my eye on our growing cannabis industry and other agricultural crops, which have provided the backbone for our food-and-wine culture for generations.

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