Meg Gill’s bio reads more like that of a “30 Under 30″ entrepreneur than a bootstrapping basement home-brewer. She was educated at Yale. She started her first company at the ripe age of 26. And, only four years later, her business was acquired by an international conglomerate for untold millions.
But those flyover details don’t do justice to the real story of Gill and the company she co-founded, Golden Road Brewing. While many laptop pundits are quick to call her a “sell-out”—the aforementioned international conglomerate was Anheuser-Busch InBev—she didn’t set out into the beer world with a get-rich-quick scheme.
Gill is a legit beer fan, not some Ivy League-educated MBA (that Yale degree is in Classics) hell-bent on becoming a billionaire and having Aaron Sorkin write her hagiography. Her first job—after a car accident derailed her Olympic swimming dreams—was evangelizing for Colorado’s Oskar Blues, where she devised a plan to get the brewery’s canned pale ale into more markets. She quickly learned that selling hoppy beer to folks who didn’t expect to like it was perfect for her personality.
Brash, no-nonsense, and unapologetically foul-mouthed, Gill makes her presence known. As a young woman in in a burly, bearded man–dominated field, she’s learned that she has to outpace her peers twofold to stay ahead of the game.
“The notion that Anheuser-Busch coming into Golden Road is a tragedy, it’s outlandish to me.”
“When I started in this industry, I didn’t have many resources,” she told Meredith Heil of Lenny. “So I overcompensated. I worked harder and learned more because I knew I wouldn’t be taken seriously unless I armed myself with tons and tons of knowledge.”
She soon figured it was silly to work her ass off for a company she didn’t own. Luckily, Gill had begun attracting attention from people like Tony Yanow, owner of Burbank’s famed Tony’s Darts Away. “She had quite a reputation in the craft beer scene in California,” Yanow told Imbibe. “And it’s funny, because I didn’t hear, ‘Oh, she’s young and cute and sporty.’ I heard, ‘powerhouse in the beer industry.’”
Gill, Yanow, and a silent partner started Golden Road in 2011, creating Los Angeles’ first production brewery in what had become known as a beer desert. Their ambitions were never to be small—something Gill seems incapable of. Golden Road’s opening event drew 1,000 eager drinkers, and within months its beers were on tap at 400 metro-area locations; four years later, it was producing 40,000 barrels annually.
Still, Gill claims Golden Road was never “built to sell.” But by mid-2015, she realized ownership by a behemoth like InBev would ease the burden of getting popular brews like the Wolf Among Weeds IPA into more states. Gill seemed almost surprised that such a savvy business play would produce detractors, asking me last November, “How many people care who owns my beer?”
She’s learned that many do, but she remains pleased with the bed she’s made, continuing to bet on herself in her role as brewery president.
“The notion that Anheuser-Busch coming into Golden Road is a tragedy, it’s outlandish to me,” Gill told Forbes. “They have the resources to really amplify the brand. I’m not cashing out. I’m rolling the dice again.”
As Gill and her brewery continue expanding in this brave new world of mergers and acquisitions, she looks back on the ten beers that have shaped her career so far.
Towards the end of my senior year in college, I distinctly remember drinking Franziskaner out of a yard glass at one of my favorite local New Haven pubs, Richter’s (sadly closed now). My parents were in town from Chester, Virginia for my final season on the swim team, and for my 21st birthday, so we toasted a couple of beers to celebrate. Maybe it was the momentous occasion (who doesn’t look back fondly, or not-so-fondly, on the beer we drink on our 21st?), but it left such an impression that it would go on to inspire Golden Road’s own Hefeweizen—the first beer we ever brewed. To this day, I revisit true-to-style beers more than any others. Franziskaner is one of the truest-to-style Bavarian “hefes” out there, with a perfect balance of clove and banana. (Photo: corksandcaftans.wordpress.com)
New Belgium Fat Tire
The day after I graduated from college—broke, homeless, and without a paid job—I packed up and drove from New Haven to Boulder to make a go of my athletic dreams and use all those “start-up business skills” I learned in college to pay for said dreams. (The optimism of a liberal-arts education.) I’ll never forget the first beer I ordered when we made it to Boulder after a couple long days on the road: a Fat Tire at Foolish Craig’s. With that first sip, I got my first fix of hops. The hops and malt are super well-balanced in this beer. It’s an amber ale, not an IPA, but it was still the first time I really understood how hops could be at the forefront of a beer’s flavor profile. With just a couple hundred bucks in cash, a degree in Classics, a mountain of Ivy League debt, and a blindly ambitious mind and soul, I felt high on optimism and a sense that no one and nothing could slow me down from living a great life, enjoying each moment as it came. That’s the power of the right beer at the right moment. (Photo: newbelgium.com)
Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale
Later that same night at Foolish Craig’s (it was a good night), I asked the bartender what else I should try. This is where it could’ve all gone wrong, but it went completely, utterly right. He poured me a Dale’s Pale Ale. Piney resin, hoppy goodness. Well-balanced. At 6.5% ABV, it’s also drinkable, and after you get past that first hoppy hit you taste those orange-lemon citrus notes. I was still remembering how tasty that beer was when I stopped in to Oskar Blues’ brewpub in Lyons, Colorado on a long bike ride. That’s when I met Jeremy Rudolf, one of my best friends to this day, in a barn next door to the pub. He was hand-canning Dale’s Pale Ale on a two-head can filler and told me to take the “low fills” home. I remember thinking, “Holy shit—a free case of beer!” He probably packaged about 30 cases that day—nowadays he packages around 3,000 in half a day. Dale Katechis, the owner, was also kind enough to introduce me to the brewing process that day over some beers and a great Southern meal. His advice? “If it ain’t fun, I ain’t doing it.” Hearing his passion in putting the very first canned craft beer out into the world, I knew that I was on the path I was meant to be on. We shared a passion for wanting to do things bigger and better—to do the best we can in everything we do. And it led to the best year of my life, discovering everything the beer industry would bring into my world. (Photo: hy-vee.com)
Cantillon Rosé De Gambrinus
I haven’t made it to Belgium yet—I know, I know, I’ve been busy!—but when I finally visit later this year, Cantillon will be my first stop. Full disclosure: I’m not sure I’ll make it to the meetings I have planned, because their fruit beers are the best in the world. Founded in 1900, the brewery is now run by a fourth-generation family member. I first discovered them on the black market through a homebrewer friend of mine. He traded his award-winning homebrews for a bottle of Rosé De Gambrinus, and we drank it on my 27th birthday after surfing San Onofre in San Diego. One of my favorite beers to have after a day on the water and a few IPAs. This is absolutely a special-occasion beer. (Photo: belgianbeerz.com)
New Glarus Wisconsin Belgian Red
While on a trip to Germany, I ran into Dan Carey, the owner of New Glarus, at Weihenstephaner. Dan’s advice I’ll never forget: “Own your home market and the rest will come.” New Glarus was the brewery that influenced me the most when building the business plan for Golden Road; I was so inspired by how beloved they are in their home state. We work tirelessly to build and maintain that hometown affinity at Golden Road. On top of their killer business sense, New Glarus’ beers are some of my favorites, especially the fruit beers. I’ve never spent more money on beer in my life than during my trip to Wisconsin last year. Fact: I had to build a new cellar at my house just to store the New Glarus Wisconsin Belgian Red. The beer is the most well-rounded and approachable sour that I’ve encountered. The mouthfeel is much smoother than typical sour beers, and the carbonation level is a bit lower, which works well when I’m looking to end my night with a ton of flavor but don’t want to need Tums. (Photo: Facebook/New Glarus)
Golden Road Berliner ITA
We got the tanks for our first 15-barrel brewhouse from a guy nicknamed Freddy who owned a brewery and distillery in Mexico. When we drove down to check out the tanks, Freddy got to talking about all these tequila barrels he had no use for. We hadn’t yet formulated any real plans for barrel-aging (we’d yet to brew our first beer), but that conversation with Freddy was fateful. No other brewery we knew of had aged beer in tequila barrels. Then, about two years ago, our head brewer had the brilliant idea to age our Berliner Weisse in the barrels. The result, affectionately named Berliner ITA, was phenomenal. The Weisse morphs from a light and refreshing 3.3% ABV to the 8% of the ITA—a fierce and complex beer. The barrels transform the Berliner while still honoring its roots as a light, refreshing style. It’s the perfect match. The ITA will change your perception of what a beer can be. (Photo courtesy Golden Road)
3 Floyds Gumballhead
Midwesterners have mastered the hoppy-wheat hybrid style. Having had a long love affair with both hefeweizens and IPAs, 3 Floyds Gumballhead is the hoppy wheat beer that’s most special to me; the hops and the wheat interact in a way that taught me that you can attain a wheat sweetness from malt in any beer that has hops. Seriously, it has this hint of brown sugar that drives me crazy. It’s like tasting a dragon in a beer, because I just want to find that flavor. (Photo: 3 Floyds Brewing Co.)
Golden Road Wolf Pup Session IPA
Okay, fine, this is my favorite beer. It exemplifies the philosophy that Golden Road’s maintained since we started in 2011: We exist to ignite ambition and optimism, to embody the California ethos of enjoying every day (usually in the sun). In doing so, we create more occasions for drinking craft beer. I’m an IPA fan, an outdoor fan, and a getting-shit-done fan, so I want to be able to sip IPAs all the time, But when you look at the alcohol content in a lot of IPAs, that just isn’t doable. It was a career highlight to work with our brewmaster Victor Novak to create Wolf Pup, a beer that has all the hops of a full double IPA but lower alcohol. This is the California gold-rush beer. We chase our dreams while drinking Wolf Pup. (Photo courtesy Golden Road)
Firestone Walker Pale Ale 31
Pale Ale 31 is my favorite pale ale on the planet—bold statement, but 100% true. This beer has the perfect balance of malty sweetness and hoppy goodness. The mouthfeel really takes it away—creamy, lightly carbonated. Beers like Pale Ale 31, which have great hop variety but lower alcohol content—those are the beers that showed me how much flavor and impeccable balance can be achieved at a sessionable ABV. Driving up and down the West Coast in 2009-10, I was weighing whether to build a brewery in San Francisco or Los Angeles. Many thoughts were thunk and decisions were made while half-way up the coast in Paso Robles, sitting alone on a bar stool at Firestone Walker’s main facility. I dreamed of creating killer hoppy beers at a manageable ABV. We all know which city won: my favorite city in the sun. (Photo: klwines.com)
Golden Road Tin Tin
Victor’s only brewed this specialty beer once at Golden Road, but it was so good that we’re all pressuring him to brew it again. Using Westmalle Trappist yeast dry-hopped with Amarillo, Jarrylo and Citra, the combination results in juicy flavors with aromas of peach, apricot, and mango. This beer gets some fancy cred with the Belgian yeast, but still has that hoppy swagger. Tin Tin took off fast: I tried it out of the tanks, and it caught fire the next week at the brewpub. Then a friend of mine showed up at my house with a growler of it. Instead of hitting me up for free beer, they went out of their way to buy this special brew before it ran out—for a party at my own house! Please brew it again, Victor? (Photo courtesy Golden Road)