Dairies are a dime a dozen in the Central Valley, but not all can boast their own microbrewery like Lucas Dairy.
Since 1938 the Lucas family has been farming in Turlock, but now the multi-generational ranch is taking a new turn by incorporating beer into their operation. On April 2, fourth-generation farmer Tom Lucas and his father Mike received unanimous support from the Stanislaus County Planning Commission to convert a former milking parlor on their property into a microbrewery.
The family began storing milk in the old tank room in 1951 but ceased in 1978, leaving the building primarily for storage. Roughly one year ago Lucas began trying his hand at brewing beer in part of the building where he was able to produce 10 gallon batches of beer. Within a year Lucas decided he would pursue brewing as an addition to his farming operation and thus Blaker 40 Brewing was born.
“It was fairly quick,” said Lucas of his decision to turn his hobby into a business. “Probably about six months into brewing we thought, ‘Hey, can we make this a reality?”
With the commission’s approval Lucas Dairy is licensed to brew 20 gallons of beer a week. While 20 gallons of beer a week is not a sustainable amount for a profit right now, Lucas says he intends to grow the business slowly and include the next generation as well: his son Tyler who is studying business and marketing at California Lutheran University in southern California.
“He wants to come home and be a part of it,” said Lucas.
In the meantime Lucas is in the process of acquiring necessary federal and state licensing.
When he isn’t working on the microbrewery, Lucas works on the family farming operation, which not only produces cows for milk and beef, but the majority of the farm is devoted to growing corn and wheat.
“For part of our new operation we will be farming some hops,” said Lucas who will be growing two varieties, cascade and columbus, which will fulfill roughly 50 percent of the brewery’s hops needs.
The brewery has tied in nicely to the Lucas Dairy farming operations as the grains that are grown on the property are used in the brewing process. After that, the ‘spent grains’ are fed to the dairy and beef cows. The secondary water from brewing is recycled and used to irrigate the crops, in turn beginning the cycle again.
“The dairy works wonderfully with the brewery. We call it a closed sustainable loop,” said Lucas.
As far as future plans, Lucas said he would like to open a restaurant or tap room in the next few years. This would further the cyclical nature of operations at the dairy as he could not only serve Blaker 40 Brewing beer but local beef from the feed lot as well.
Having already fielded interest from individuals in Turlock with commercial space, the idea of a future location in a nearby town would also fulfill Lucas’ goal of having more independence over business. With farming being subjective to weather conditions and market prices for instance, Lucas sees the brewery as an opportunity to articulate his own vision for the business.
“We wanted to get into something that we had a little more retail presence with and the brewery lets us do that,” said Lucas.
That doesn’t mean he will be distancing himself from farming though.
“We really want to continue this as a farming tradition. I want to see it continue into the fifth, sixth, seventh generation,” said Lucas.