STOCKTON — A drive from Eureka to Stockton changed the course of Barbara Groom’s life.
The once-bored pharmacist had been contemplating crafting a more exciting career for herself. She found it.
Groom, a San Joaquin County native, is one of the founders of the award-winning Lost Coast Brewery.
The Brewers Association placed her company on the 2017 list of the country’s top 50 craft brewing companies by sales volume. According to Lost Coast Brewery, every day it bottles 135,000 beers and fills 1,000 kegs — a big difference from Groom’s early days of brewing in her kitchen and fermenting beer in her bathtub.
Groom, the daughter of a farmer, grew up in Waterloo.
As a “4-H kid,” she raised pigs to earn money for college, grew vegetables and at one point had “the best sugar beets project in San Joaquin County,” the 71-year-old Groom said with a laugh.
She credits her hands-on experience in the Central Valley working on agricultural projects for 4-H with the skills she needed to become an entrepreneur.
The Linden High School graduate took the long road to the beer business.
She grew up wanting to be a pharmacist based on a vivid childhood memory of her parents taking her to a drug store. The neat rows of bottles and photos of the history of drug stores on the wall made her imagine a fun, interesting profession. She now admits she wrong.
“In reality, it was so boring,” she said.
Groom spent about two decades working as a pharmacist despite testing out other professions, including going to cabinet making school. But it wasn’t until 1983 when a drive through Highway 101 to return home to Stockton led her to Hopland, where Mendocino Brewing Company, then Hopland Brewery, was celebrating its opening.
“I loved beer,” she said. “I wanted to do that.”
Groom took several home brewing classes and finally dusted off the brew kit hidden in her attic that she had bought while a student at Washington State University. Her first batch was drinkable, she remembers.
In 1990, after securing a loan, making many batches of homebrew and spending three years of research, Groom and Wendy Pound opened Lost Coast Brewery & Café in Eureka, becoming one of the few female-owned and -operated breweries in the country.
“The first two years we were on the edge of bankruptcy all the time,” Groom said. “Nobody knew what a brewpub was in those days.”
What saved Lost Coast those first years was a banker who took a liking to the brewery and cashed their bad checks, she said. By year three, Lost Coast had hired a business manager who used clever marketing, like free chicken wings, to get people through the door.
Once they came in, they stayed, Groom said.
Now, Lost Coast can be found across the country and world, a fact that still astounds Groom.
“I always think, ‘How did I do it?’ ” she said.
Groom, who still has family in San Joaquin County and visits the area, said she would like to incorporate local produce in her beer, like the Linden cherries her cousins grow and sell at farmers markets. And in the past, she has drawn inspiration from her hometown.
Great White — one of Lost Coast Brewery’s flagship beers — was the first beer Lost Coast made and it used kaffir lime leaves Groom bought at Asian food markets in Stockton.
Groom will always have a connection to Stockton, she said.
“I still call it home.”
For Stockton Beer Week, Taps Bar-N-Grill, 222 N. El Dorado St., and Valley Brewing Company on the Miracle Mile are hosting Lost Coast Brewery tap takeover on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively.
Contact reporter Almendra Carpizo at (209) 546-8264 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @AlmendraCarpizo.