I was lucky enough to get to the San Francisco and Bay Area for beer week earlier this year, and for the first time, I stayed on the Oakland side. Not only did this give me an entirely different perspective on the evolving scene of the East Bay, it also gave me quick access to the North Bay—and I took full advantage of it.
I needed to get up to Santa Rosa for a shoot at Russian River for the Pliny release which was just published as part of Alyssa Pereira’s first GBH story. Check that out when you get a moment—it’s a great one.
And that gave me good reason to make a stop at another brewery up that way, one I’ve been following mostly through its founder’s Twitter personality for the last couple years. HenHouse Brewing Company started in Petaluma before growing up a bit and moving North into the front of a sauerkraut production facility where they’ve been transitioning a bit. While they started as a farmhouse brewery making some fantastic Saisons and traditional styles, they're now fully embracing the Double IPA and haze craze, working to figure out if that’s an existential crisis, a business they should openly embrace, or both. Sometimes, especially in small business, existential questions make for poor business, and great business makes for a poor existence.
HenHouse co-founder Collin McDonnell seems to appreciate the duality—and works through his thoughts more openly than most. His public Twitter account is where I find some of the most intriguing and intellectually honest conversations happening in craft beer. It's a place where he argues about things like independence, the distribution system, corporate and craft beer, and a host of other gnarly discussions, and one of the reasons I think he does it so well is that he doesn’t take any of those words for granted. So often when the rest of the world hunkers down into their rhetorical trenches, Collin swings by with a reframe of the situation, and exposes the impractical flaws in both sides of the argument.
Does independence matter if everyone’s doing the same thing? Does distribution and access to market need to evolve, or should it be replaced by a new idea entirely? And in the end, who’s going to shut up and take responsibility for the beer?
This guy is an example of the kind of person who makes working in the beer industry so challenging and fulfilling. And he makes damn good beer. Listen in.