Like many Chicago natives, I was caught completely by surprise Monday night when Lagunitas owner Tony Magee dropped a major bombshell via the brewery’s Twitter account, 140 characters at a time. Throwing formal press conferences to the wind, Magee revealed that the company had chosen the exact site of its brand-new brewery, and–get this–it’s on the West Side of Chicago.
Immediately, I began to imagine the impact that this will have on Chicago’s craft beer community. Most of the city’s breweries are quite small in their total output and distribution, with the notable exception of Goose Island. The reason for this is that most of the city’s breweries are relatively new, and as such are fairly small. Some of the city’s best beermakers, like Revolution Brewing and Haymarket Pub and Brewery, are just brewpubs as we speak, but almost all have plans for immediate expansion (such as the Revolution production brewery opening this year). As I covered a few months back, Chicago is a city in the middle of a true craft beer renaissance, with planned brewery projects that number into the dozens. Things have grown like gangbusters in the last five years or so, and within a few more, the number of places producing beer in the city will have doubled.
And now, suddenly, you add a giant into the mix. There isn’t any brewery the size of Lagunitas anywhere within Illinois. When it moves in, with its 250 barrel brewhouse, it is estimated that it will be producing more beer in a year than the likes of Goose Island, Three Floyds, Two Brothers, Half Acre, Revolution, Haymarket, Pipeworks, Finch’s, 5 Rabbit and the rest of the city combined. The overall national production will be even more ridiculous. Granted, only a fraction of that beer will actually be sold and consumed in the Chicago area, where Lagunitas is already distributed, but who knows what kind of reactions and concerns the brewers of Chicago might still have regarding this sort of announcement? Read the rest of this entry »