Anchored firmly on what could be termed the “right side of the tracks” (where the I-5 and Ventura Freeway converge on the cusp of Glendale), are three substantial warehouses drenched in vibrant hues of red, yellow, and blue. The size and scope of the buildings, regardless of their use, intrigues.
Meg Gill, a dynamic balance of poise, self-confidence, and moxie, is the chief source of aspiration and inspiration for Golden Road Brewing. The 29-year-old president co-founded the company in October 2011, and in less than three years, Golden Road has become LA’s largest and most successful craft brewery.
Golden Road’s office space, as colorful and distinguished as their fearless leader, ebbs and flows like the pouring of a beer itself. Corners of the premises feature furniture reminiscent of Mark Twain’s picturesque Southern Antebellum while nearby swathes of the space are more like Silicon Valley than craft brewery.
Gill and co-founder Tony Yanow (of Echo Park eatery Mohawk Bend) quickly broke down the doors of an industry where legacy and family name are everything. With no one offering to “grandfather” them in, they built their empire from scratch and are now on the menu of more than 1,000 restaurants throughout Los Angeles as well as an increasing number of supermarkets. Beyond their geographical relevance throughout the city, Golden Road’s success shines through on their bottom line; their 2013 revenue was north of $10 million.
Valedictorian at her high school, Gill left her small hometown of Chester, Virginia, to attend Yale, where she studied Classics. She also swam competitively, making first team, all-Ivy League. Following graduation, Gill took the road less traveled among Yale alumni and followed a friend to Colorado where the two began hosting “Skirt Chaser” 5K races. As is often the case, the culmination of the race was accompanied by the thirst for beer.
Equal parts necessity and coincidence led Gill into Oskar Blues (a brewery in a one-stop-light town in Colorado), hoping to find a receptacle to quench her racer’s thirst. She struck up a conversation with Dale Katechis, the man in charge at Oskar Blues and quickly won him over. Katechis gave Gill a vote of confidence that helped propel her vision into reality. She recalls him telling her, “My belief is if it ain’t fun, I ain’t doing it. But you’re fun and this is fun, so let’s do it.”
Gill and Katechis’ partnership would result in valuable teaching points; for instance, the aluminum can – not the glass bottle – is the appropriate vessel for beer. Why? The sun can’t penetrate aluminum, and a can affords less open-air headspace than that of a bottle.
Embracing the standout style Golden Road has grown into, Gill, the brewery’s lifeblood, embodies a “go get ‘em” temperament that has helped her build an environment rather than fit into someone else’s. Early on, she won over industry vets with her “shock and awe” tactics, challenging them with questions such as, “Don’t you want a little taste in your beer?” and “Aren’t you sick of this Bud Light [stuff]?”
In addition to her rambunctious energy in high-pressure situations, Gill also studied beer the way an all-pro quarterback dissects game film – with attention to every detail. Leveraging attitude and spirit with industry expertise, she would win in the boardroom, close deals over the phone, and build lasting partnerships.
Beyond the success of Golden Road, Gill is a pioneer for her industry. When discussing the emergence of craft beer, she acknowledges the power of the consumer’s palate. “If they can pay $10 for a locally brewed six-pack IPA,” she points out, “they won’t pay $10 for a pilsner brewed in Belgium.”
Always two steps ahead, Golden Road is taking broad steps to ensure that as they grow, so, too, does their market share. Gill explains that, “if 5% of [Angelenos] are craft beer drinkers, we don’t want to exclude them, but we also want to market to the remaining 95%.”
Today, Golden Road can be found lining the shelves of Whole Foods and crowding the racks of Trader Joe’s. You can order a pint at Dodger Stadium or a chilled can at your local pizza joint.
As the quality of the product continues to grow, the quantity likely will as well. “Three years from now we could be at an 80,000 to 100,000 barrel capacity and within the six-million-barrel market of Los Angeles, we would be the top craft player,” Gill says with a look equal parts confidence and exuberance.