Beer shoppers in the vicinity of San Marcos may have noticed a new brand appearing in local grocery stores at the end of 2016: Great Goats Brewing Company. However, Great Goats is far from being new. It turns out, the beer inside those 22-ounce bottles represents several of San Diego's oldest craft-beer recipes.
Great Goats beers are brewed by San Marcos Brewery & Grill, the brewpub that launched in the early 1990s in its namesake city and stands as the oldest active brewery in North County.
San Marcos general manager Dean Jacobson explains the Great Goats name was inspired by the brewpub's flagship Old Goat's Oats oatmeal stout, which the brewery has been making since day one. "It's one of the original beers that the brewery produced," he says. "We serve it off a hand pump similar to an English ale."
Old Goat's is carbonated for bottling runs, as it has been for a decade. However, most of that time, bottles were sold exclusively out of the restaurant, alongside other house beers popular among regulars. So, when San Marcos Brewery would participate in beer festivals around the county, beer fans from other parts of the county remained unaware of the San Marcos brand. So, Jacobson says, "About two years ago, we started getting our beer out to the local markets."
After the first year distributing bottles of the stout, IPA, honey ale, and other styles around North County, Jacobson says sales were starting to gain momentum. However, the San Marcos team noticed their brand didn't stand out on supermarket shelves. Part of the problem was that the eight or ten beer styles didn't share a uniform label design or logo to distinguish the brand. So they opted for a refresh.
"As you see with many breweries now, like Coronado or Green Flash," Jacobson points out, "lots of breweries are going from this hard-to-read label to something very simple." So, inspired by the likes of Stone Brewing's instantly recognizable gargoyle or the clenched fist associated with Iron Fist Brewing, San Marcos adopted a pipe-smoking goat icon from its stout label to cement the brand. "That logo is going to sit on the face of each label and be more recognizable," says Jacobson.
After a year of testing it out, Jacobson says retail sales have remained mostly the same, and in a couple stores there has been a slight boost. San Marcos has added vanilla cream ale and latte porter to their bottled offerings and is looking to expand to retailers farther south, beginning with Mira Mesa.
However, a branding refresh isn't the only lesson San Marcos Brewing has picked up from its latent exploration of the retail market. David Nutley, brewmaster and cofounder of San Marcos Brewery, suggests establishing Great Goats was a first step toward pursuing the first expansion in the brewery's 24-year history.
Noting that "most retailers are shrinking their bottle inventory in favor of cans," Nutley has decided to finally grow beyond the seven-barrel brewhouse that has produced all San Marcos beer since 1993. "We're looking for another facility that will accommodate a canning machine," he says, "and a larger brewing system as well."