Goathouse Brewing Co. is farm to pint

A husband-wife duo gets goose bumps, starts countryside farmhouse brewery in Lincoln

Catherine Johnson (center) founded Goathouse Brewing Co. with husband Michael. The Lincoln-based company specializes in brews using fresh ingredients from the Johnson’s own agricultural bounty.

Catherine Johnson (center) founded Goathouse Brewing Co. with husband Michael. The Lincoln-based company specializes in brews using fresh ingredients from the Johnson’s own agricultural bounty.

photo by steven chea

Goathouse Brewing Co., 600 Wise Road in Lincoln; (916) 740-9100; www.goathousebrewing.com. Tasting room hours are Thursday through Friday, 2-6pm; and Saturday through Sunday, 11am-4pm. Please call or email for tasting-room reservations.

It doesn't take long after turning off a narrow country road in Lincoln to realize that Goathouse Brewing Co. is a special place. Beyond the parking spaces drawn on a patch of manicured gravel, there is a lovingly kept garden to the left, hop vines growing to the right, a cluster of beehives in the distance, and straight ahead a small pond populated by cantankerous geese named Oompa and Loompa.

Most importantly, there is a beautiful red barn where Goathouse brews and serves its beer, most of which incorporate hops, orchard fruits, honey and other ingredients grown on the property. A farmhouse brewery located in a part of Lincoln untouched by chain stores and condos, Goathouse is unlike any other area brewing operation. It’s a testament to the variety of the Sacramento beer scene, and also a tantalizing vision of what it could become.

Owners Michael and Catherine Johnson were just as charmed by the Lincoln property when they first spotted it two years ago. “It was love at first sight,” says Catherine, an ex-marketing exec who tends the farm while husband Michael handles the beer. “We got goose bumps.” Although they have been open for five months, Goathouse Brewing is a project more than seven years in the making, originating as the exhausted dream of overworked Alameda parents.

The couple’s prebrewery life consisted of long commutes, impossible hours, and the often futile hope of connecting with their kids and each other on the weekends. Catherine says, “We asked ourselves, ’Can we switch up that model?’ If we’re going to work those kinds of hours, let’s do something that we love.”

After years of living in Alameda, they knew they wanted land. Michael had been brewing beer since he was legally able to drink it, and Catherine was a longtime gardening enthusiast. They were already growing some of their own food, and the connection between growing hops, brewing beer and getting back to the land led to the idea of starting a nanobrewery.

It took five years to settle on a location for their dream project, as they combed through overpriced plots in Napa and Sonoma and nearly closed on a more traditionally industrial brewing space in Alameda. After discovering the farm in Lincoln, they snapped it up, and then spent two years renovating the space and working with Placer County on licenses.

The process was drawn out in part by the uniqueness of the Goathouse concept, which combines brewing and agriculture (as well as a home for the Johnsons and their two children) in a fashion more common to the Belgian countryside than the Sacramento Valley. “There had really been nothing else like it before,” says Catherine, “so it’s a little confusing for some people.”

Currently, Goathouse brews on a three-barrel system, and they have no plans to bottle or distribute. “We wanted to change up the typical volume business of a brewery,” says Catherine. “We’re not trying to take over the world right away.” Even though she comes from advertising, they’ve done zero marketing so far. “It’s all been word of mouth. Our model is the experience, not just the beer.”

That’s not to say the beer isn’t fantastic. Michael’s brews display the same care and investment evident in the beauty of the farm and the quaint charm of the tasting room.

Ménage is a refreshing Belgian tripel brewed with citrus grown in the Goathouse orchard, and the creamy Honeyweizen features honey from their own hives. Best of all is the Jagged Little Pils, a peppery pilsner brewed with kölsch yeast, which gives the beer a blue-cheeselike bite.

Even better, there are no blaring widescreen TVs in the tasting room, only a vintage jukebox and a couple of picnic tables with a history of their own. Michael crafted the tables out of repurposed wood from the renovated barn’s old horse stalls, and that wood turned out to have been salvaged bench seats from Kezar Stadium, where the San Francisco 49ers used to play home games.

It’s an almost ridiculously apt metaphor for the Goathouse Brewing pilgrimage, which began in the bustle of the Bay Area but found an identity in the Lincoln countryside.