Picture what a craft brewery tasting room in upscale Walnut Creek would probably look like. Now picture the tech guy/homebrewer who’s opening it. No offense, but you’re probably wrong on both counts.
Farm Creek Brewing founder Randy Janinda isn’t your average SF computer dude who discovered beer last Tuesday. Twenty years ago, he got married and started a family when he was 17. While most of his peers were still probably still goofing around, the young father joined the Air Force and quickly got involved with hardcore-sounding units like this and this. Kind of puts the stress and responsibility of starting a business as a 30-something into perspective, no? After the military he did various types of computer work, including computer security jobs that paid him to break into banks to expose chinks in the armor. He and his family later moved to California for him to work for a then-small company called Twitter — maybe you’ve heard of it.
Meanwhile, he started homebrewing about 10 years ago, mostly because the process fascinated the problem-solving part of his brain. Neither he nor his wife Heather were beer drinkers then. She still isn’t, but she’s the one who’s always encouraged him to brew a batch even when he didn’t feel like it. When the Janindas moved to California and didn’t know anyone out here yet, that gave Randy more time to get deeper into beermaking. He joined the DOZE homebrew club and raised his beer to medal-winning levels.
In 2013, after years of at-home discussions and visiting more than 50 breweries to take notes and ask questions, the Janindas announced they were starting a brewery of their own.
The long road to Farm Creek
It’s not unusual for a brewery to take years to open, and to have twists and turns along the way, and Farm Creek is no exception.
For one, the part of Walnut Creek zoned for a brewery was in an inconvenient location, plus owners didn’t seem to want a brewery in their buildings. The Janindas found an auto glass business moving out of its building and snatched up the spot, but because the area wasn’t zoned for a brewery they had to get a Conditional Use Permit from the city. Randy describes this as an “illogical and broken” process, and he’s not the first brewer I’ve known who’s had problems with it. He persevered, and after months of waiting and thousands of dollars, Farm Creek got its hearing and its permit was unanimously approved.
Next stop, contractors, architects, and more approvals from the city and county. It was also time for Farm Creek to get some bigger-than-homebrew equipment. They’d planned to build everything themselves, but would up with a combination of new and used equipment. “Our main challenge with the used equipment was the amount of time we spent searching and how fast you have to get to a decision,” said Randy — fast as in “hours.” He contacted a small Canadian brewery, Fernie Brewing Company, within minutes of their equipment ad being posted and flew to Canada the next week to brew with them on the system and ultimately buy it. “Next we learned about the shipping industry, customs, and border brokers,” said Randy. “Hindsight, I’d still go with this purchase as the price was right and the brewery supports us as we are installing and brewing.” They decided on new fermenters and brite tanks.
A true family business
The Janindas are 100% owners of Farm Creek Brewing Company, a literal mom-and-pop business. The outdated stereotype is that brewing wives either tolerate or “support” their husbands going pro, but Randy is quick to say his wife Heather “is seriously the sole reason this thing even exists.” She’s designing the taproom and has the tough job of making it welcoming and cozy even though it’s inside a factory. She’s also been active with branding, beer naming, social media, and QA tasting, and she’ll be bartending when the taproom opens. “People may end up liking my beer, but they always end up loving Heather,” said Randy.
The Janindas have an eye towards creating a business they can pass down to their kids and grandkids, and the young ones are already getting in on the act. Their 18-year-old daughter recently helped clean the brew system and will work in the brewery until she leaves for college later this year. Their 8-year-old son tries to help with every manual labor job and wants to sell everyone in the world a Farm Creek t-shirt. They’re hiring one of their nephews in March. Their 20-year-old son is in the Army so he isn’t around much, but turning 21 the year your family opens a brewery sounds pretty cool.
The “Farm” part of the brewery name hearkens back to previous generations of Randy and Heather’s families. Randy’s family in Florida raised cattle and pigs and grew pine trees for a paper mill. Heather’s family had a farm in upstate New York that grew Christmas trees, made maple syrup, fixed tractors, and grew corn. The “Creek” part is for their adopted community of Walnut Creek. Randy freely admits there are less expensive, easier cities to do business in, but it was important to them to reinvest in the city where they live and are raising kids.
What to expect
Farm Creek Brewing Company will open in March if all goes well. It will be a production brewery with a 15-bbl brew system and several 30 bbl fermenters, and the taproom will be open on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. As befits the name, the taproom atmosphere will put a touch of the farm in a town better known for high-end shopping — “not hipster, mason jar, faux rustic,” said Randy, “but genuine care and craftsmanship and pride and simplicity rustic.”
The beer will be largely European styles with American twists: beers you can enjoy several of with food, not experimental craziness or mega hop bombs. They’ve been working on seven beers: a standard American lager brewed with ale yeast so it’s ready faster, an American pale ale (I’ve tried that one, it’s nice!), a Scottish 80, a sub-4% amber with rye and a bit of smoked malt, a foreign extra stout with barrel aging potential, a wheat beer with rye, and a double IPA. Randy has already adapted his brewery plans enough times, however, to know any of those could change.