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?
For that reason, I spent a few hours on Tuesday sending out emails, Facebook messages and phone calls to the brewers of every single Chicago beer maker that I could find contact information for. I decided the best thing to do would be to give them a mostly standardized list of short questions, and then gather all of their impressions here in one place. Being good sports, many of them replied. The basic questions, for your information, were:
1. How do you think the infusion of such a huge new brewery will affect the entire industry in Chicago? The stat that keeps getting bandied around is that Lagunitas will be making more beer (250 barrel system) per year than GI, Half Acre, Revolution, 5 Rabbit, Haymarket, Pipeworks, Three Floyds and Two Brothers put together. Clearly not all of that is going to the Chicago market, but just the fact that so much more beer will be produced here must change things somehow.
2. What, in your eyes, are the pros and cons of having a new major brewery in town, trying to establish a “Chicago” identity? Do you think there’s any reason for a very small brewery in the process of starting up to be worried about this kind of announcement?
3. Finally, what do you think of Lagunitas’ beers, and how “spiritually similar” do you think your own brewery’s products are?
I tried to keep things simple so that we would be able to see a range of responses to the same basic questions. One sentiment, however, shone through in pretty much all of the responses, and that’s excitement. The brewers of Chicago are almost unanimous in both their support of the Lagunitas expansion and their optimism toward how having a massive new brewery in town will affect the locals. Below, I list each brewery representative I received a response from, and their initial impressions on the Lagunitas announcement.
Gabriel Magliaro, President of Half Acre Beer Company
We have one outlook on existing breweries, new breweries, more breweries, bigger breweries.
We’re fortunate to work in an industry that’s exciting, passionate, celebrated and currently successful. Those are privileges that are awarded and in no way guaranteed. It’s everyone’s responsibility to move that in a positive direction. It’s our task, along with everyone else, new and old, to expand on the idea of what this industry is and can be.
Half Acre welcomes the expansion of creativity and improvement in any way it takes shape. Short of that, your endeavor is ultimately clutter – and no one needs clutter. We wish Lagunitas and everyone the best of luck, but those with the right motivations and intentions shouldn’t need it.
PS. It will be a plus having super fresh Lagunitas brews.
Well, the Lagunitas brewery here will serve the whole eastern half of the country, I assume, so it’s probably about their ability to serve new markets more than to expand their sales in Chicago. Tony’s from here; his sister lives here (and is marrying Ray Daniels), so Chicago has been a strong satellite market for a while. Expanding sales once the low-hanging fruit has been picked is a long slow haul, no matter the brewery size. So, whatever market presence he’ll gain here, it will be earned.
Yes, their new brewery may be “huge” by craft beer standards, but look at the beer market as a whole. The weight is shifting from a few huge producers to a lot of small and not-quite-small breweries, It will take a lot of 250,000 bbl breweries to replace one 15 million bbl one. The beer market in Oregon is 30% craft, I heard. That should give you an idea of how high up is. Or will be.
Personally, I hope Chicago doesn’t become known for any one thing, perhaps unless it’s diversity. I’d be shocked if Lagunitas put on any special Chicago identity. My expectation is that they’ll just be more of the same ol’ Lagunitas–just maybe a tad fresher.
I like some of their beers very much, and bear in mind I’m not a super hophead. As a whole, they’re creative and have a real point-of-view, but also show a lot of attention to detail. Their Pils may be the best in the world–certainly the best I can get my hands on. Also glad to see anything, anytime that reminds me of Frank Zappa, whose artistic approach they clearly share. Plus, Tony has a reputation as a fanatical (in the best sense), hard-working and honest maker of beer. Personally, I’ll be happy to see him around town a little more often.
Samuel Evans, co-owner, New Chicago Beer Company
We’re excited about Lagunitas’ announcement–having such a large scale brewery not only provides the city with the freshest Lagunitas beer we can imagine, but also opens the door for many local Chicagoans to get first-hand work experience at a large production brewery. As the beer scene expands here and more local breweries expand, having trained professionals already in the market is invaluable. We don’t see Lagunitas taking on a “Chicago identity” any more than Sierra Nevada or New Belgium are going to adopt an Asheville identity. We’ll see an increase in awareness for Lagunitas beer here in Chicago, which can only help craft breweries on the whole. The more people who try and enjoy craft beer, the more exciting the market becomes.
As for whether our beer will be “spiritually similar” to Lagunitas, we will definitely take some cues from the style of beer we fell in love with out West, but we hope to brew beer that people find uniquely Chicago. Who knows, maybe our city’s beer scene will merit its own style.
Jonathan Cutler, brewer, Piece Brewery and Pizzeria
Honestly, I don’t think it’s going to change things that much. Craft beer fans might see some more of the unique Lagunitas brands in Chicago. I think the people at Lagunitas are doing this for the same reasons Sierra and New Belgium announced their East Coast breweries, and that’s largely costs. I certainly don’t think they’re coming in to take over Chicago. I’ve got a friend who works for them; he’s a great guy and he always says he works with a ton of really nice people who are the same way. They love beer like we all do. We all got into this because it was something we really wanted to do. The more the merrier.
I don’t think they’re trying to establish a Chicago identity or be a “Chicago brewery.” I think they’ll keep their California identity and bring that here. They’re one of the fastest growing breweries in the country and this will help them immensely. It just makes sense money-wise at the rate they’re growing. I think they’ll just continue to do what they’ve always done, in Chicago.
Gerrit Lewis, co-founder, Pipeworks Brewing Company
I haven’t the slightest idea… [How it will affect the industry] It’ll be weird to go to Lagunitas events and think of them as a Chicago brewery, though. I suppose Chicago will be drinking a lot more Lagunitas since their presence will be much heavier in this market.
Again, most of that beer isn’t solely for Chicagoland. It’s intended for the entire Midwest and East Coast. However, Lagunitas has traditionally had the cheapest price points for what I consider to usually be pretty solid craft beer. It’s impossible to compete with them on bang-for-your-buck. It shouldn’t have any effect on the start-up market here though if you are bringing a solid product to market. Where these kind of rapid expansions, DFH, Lagunitas, New Belgium, Sierra Nevada, might be felt by us little guys, is the constraint on quality ingredients. And it’s substantial.
Josh Garrett, founder, Powell Brew House
This is going to be so huge for the Chicago brew scene. Chicago is already arguably the biggest center of interest for craft beer in the country. Now, hopefully we can become the biggest center for beer manufacturing. It makes a lot of sense for coastal breweries to look for more centralized manufacturing locations as their demand becomes national. Hopefully Stone and Deschutes will be right on their heels. I foresee this having a huge positive impact on the lower west side area’s local economy. Pilsen and University Village are already blowing up, and this will help their growth to the west.
I feel that Lagunitas’ does such a great job producing enough quantity of affordable and great tasting seasonal and year round beers that they will soon be mentioned alongside Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada as “the brewery that got me into craft beer” by many beer geeks. That kind of accessibility, as well as their obvious portrayal of fun in all of their marketing material, will make them awesome craft beer ambassadors in Chicago. Yeah, maybe they’ll take some business away from Daisy Cutter and 312 on tap at all the local bars, but I think it will be a huge net gain overall. I see very few, if any, cons to this. As the CBOE is moving to Jersey at the end of the year, I would be glad to see all the futures/options trading suits in Chicago replaced by flannel-clad bearded beer geeks as Chicago becomes the epicenter for American craft beer.
As far as ‘spiritual similarities’ between Powell Brew House and Lagunitas, I think there are quite a few. I like to make a lot of hoppier, 6-9% abv beers for “sessioning,” many inspired by Lagunitas beers I’ve recently drank. As one of my favorite breweries, Lagunitas certainly has a lot of influence on a lot of my beers. Last May, I was fortunate enough to visit Lagunitas’ Petaluma brewery. When I arrived, there was a guy at the door informing all first time visitors of their only rule, “to have fun.” That is definitely the kind of spirit I want Powell Brew House to embody, and definitely the type of business that I am happy to see coming to Chicago.
Paul Schneider, author of Chicago beer blog Chitown on Tap
This is clearly a major shakeup, but it’s going to play out in subtle ways. In the short term, there will be dozens of job openings in brewing, cellaring, packaging, and management. There’s no doubt Lagunitas will draw some talent away from local breweries. But in the long term, having a few hundred more people in Chicago working at a highly regarded brewery with national distribution means that there will be a larger pool of experienced, talented people to start new breweries here.
On the beer side, we’ll certainly have fresher Lagunitas beer in Chicago. Of course, most of the 600k bbls of beer Lagunitas will eventually produce will be sold far away from here. Magee’s plans include a tap room, retail, tours, and collaborations, so there will definitely be a direct and immediate benefit to consumers.
The biggest effect is probably that this move is a major milestone in Chicago’s growth as a craft beer city. This is the third regional craft brewery in a few months to announce plans to open a second brewery (Sierra Nevada and New Belgium are opening up shop in Asheville, NC), so the fact that it landed here is huge. It should give us some swagger. It’s interesting to see this happen at a time when John Hall is pursuing his dream of building a brand new, ultra-sustainable Goose Island brewery on the Chicago River. If that comes together in the next few years, Chicagoland will go from producing around 250k bbls of beer before the Goose Island sale to well over one million.
Small, new breweries shouldn’t be discouraged. There’s a ton of room for new local product. Craft beer is tied to a popular movement towards more local, artisanal, and sustainable products. I think the real strength of Chicago’s beer scene will come from small, distinctive neighborhood brewpubs. In my opinion, the gathering places are just as–or perhaps more–important than the beer itself. Also, craft beer drinkers tend to want to explore and try the next new thing, so the fact that there will soon be 1.2 million bbls of Lagunitas beer flowing around the country every year doesn’t mean the demand for variety will be met.
Jeremiah Zimmer, founder, South Loop Brewing
Without a doubt in my mind, Lagunitas’ expansion into our beloved city is something all Chicago-based craft brewers should be excited about. If you truly love this city, you can’t help but consider the jobs and economic lift that accompany the arrival of such an operation. From the perspective of Chicago’s “craft beer scene,” how can you argue with the boost in credibility that comes with adding one of America’s finest craft brewers as a neighbor?
The state of Colorado ranks 4th nationally in craft breweries per capita and many would argue that Colorado (or more-specifically the Denver area) is our nation’s craft beer mecca. By comparison, Illinois ranks 34th, yet has 151% the population of our Rockies-based friends. The demand (and the opportunity for us fledgling brewers to meet that demand) for more craft beer is alive and well here in Chicagoland. If it weren’t, 3 Floyd’s Dark Lord Day wouldn’t crash Web servers and sell out in minutes. Ditto on Goose Island’s Stout Fest. Half Acre fans line-up around the block for brewery tours and special releases and Finch’s tours sell out a month in advance. South Loop Brewing Company, with no physical location (we’re working on that now) and no “street legal” beers out in the market (working on that too), has over 1,200 fans and followers on Facebook and Twitter. Brewing capacity be damned, it’s full speed ahead for all of us, whether it’s South Loop Brewing Company, Broad Shoulders Brewing, New Chicago Beer Company, Pipeworks, Finch’s or any of our other craft brewer friends. Lagunitas’ presence doesn’t hurt that. It enhances that.
Andrew Lautner, co-founder, Low Dive Brewing
As far as affecting the entire industry, we think that due to the size of the operation, it makes Chicago more of a player at a national level. We think this continues to solidify Chicago as a growing craft beer destination. Tourists will be able to come and see all levels of brewing operations active in one city; from nano brewer to huge industrial brewer.
Surely this widens their distribution to new markets, which is great for consumers not currently on their distribution map. We feel this industry feeds off of variety, and the addition of a new brewer adds life and momentum to a city that only a few years ago only had Goose. Adding such a large and well-known brand says that Chicago is a great city and a place for breweries of all levels. It’s not so much the volume of production, but rather the quality of the product. As long as they continue with their consistency and quality, this really should not be seen as a bad thing. The addition of a large brewery means there will be more brewers in Chicago, more jobs, and more opportunity to learn from each other and to collaborate.
They brew what they like, and we respect that. The economies of scale achieved by Lagunitas has allowed them to deliver a premium product to the consumer at a price that is very reasonable. Their price point encourages people to give craft beer a try, which is great for the industry as a whole. If nothing else, once they start brewing in Chicago, we’ll be drinking their hoppy ales even fresher!
Clint Bautz, founder, Lake Effect Brewing
I think there’s a lot of room for Lagunitas and other breweries in this thirsty Midwest beer market. I’ve always been a big fan of their beer. Their IPA is a true classic and one of the best on the market. I also think that it is so cool that they are building their facility on the south side and bringing jobs and vitality to an area that really needs energy.
As for being a small startup and worried about larger breweries coming in, I am not worried at all. We are small potatoes, bringing online a 7 barrel system for local distribution. Remember that craft beer is only 6% of the total beer market–there is a lot of room to grow. Also keep in mind that Chicagoland is the second largest beer market in the country with a population of 2x the state of Colorado but only has 20 or so small breweries. Colorado has 120 breweries.
Lagunitas will always be a Northern California beer in my mind but its product is so good that Chicagoland will for the most part welcome their arrival, I know I am excited.
Rich Szydlo, founder, Big Shoulders Beer Company
I think the best effect of a brewery of that size will be the experience for the labor market. There will be plenty of jobs created and the experience brewers will get working there will help foster new ideas and new brewers to help expand the beer market in Chicago. Another side effect, I hope, will be aspirations. Seeing a brewery of this size in Chicago I think helps the businesses in the market see potential of what Chicago beers can be. There’s no reason any one the breweries in Chicago can’t grow and expand to that level, and hopefully seeing something like that will help increase the possibilities.
I don’t see Lagunitas really trying to create a “Chicago presence.” At least not any more than they already do. They’re in the process of creating a national presence, building in Chicago is smart geographic choice to help achieve that. Just as New Belgium isn’t trying to be a North Carolina beer with their facility going in down there, or any contract brewer trying to create a Wisconsin identity. One thing we’ve seen in the beer market is that more beer helps everyone, seeing companies expand at this level proves that. It doesn’t worry me at all, it helps give me confidence in my own growth as a company.
Lance Curren, co-founder, Arcade Brewery
I’m really excited. I think it just adds to the amazing beer culture of Chicago. I don’t see this taking business away from any of the breweries mentioned or a threat to any up and comers but just helps to further legitimize Chicago as an amazing beer city.
I don’t think Arcade has anything “spiritually” in common besides preferring a bottle over a can. I have a six-pack of A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ in the fridge right now and I dig it but they’ve never been a go to beer for me when I’m out. I think they are good a what they do and Chicago should be thrilled to have them bringing more beer jobs to the city.
Jon Contreras, founder, Corazon Cerveza Artesenal
I am optimistic when it comes to Lagunitas expansion into Chicago. This only brings more attention to the craft beer scene in the city. Ideally, people will be more inclined to hop on the wagon if they see its popularity increase. Once people start drinking craft beer they become more open to try different ones. I agree with what Lagunitas preaches; Think globally, drink locally!
I am very interested in how they will attempt to create a Chicago identity without alienating their North Cal base. What is even more interesting is that their facility is located in North Lawndale’s industrial corridor, a predominately Latino community.
Apart from producing beer, what else does Lagunitas have in mind? A Rolec system that size, tends to be more automated than not. I worry that it will not have a significant impact on the local job market.
Other than making great beer, there do not seem to be many similarities in our brewing styles. By incorporating unique Latin flavors and a lot of Latin heart into our beer, we are able to differentiate ourselves from most breweries.
Meghan Hofert, founder, 4-Paws Brewing
This move just illustrates the incredible growth of the craft beer industry nationwide, and Chicago should be proud and excited that a great, well-established brewery is heading our way. The desire for more craft beer is really insatiable at this time, so we are of the “more the merrier” mindset. I don’t know that Lagunitas will have a “Chicago” identity, however I think Chicago will begin to identify with Lagunitas more.
As for the similarity between our beers and Lagunitas’- any craft beer obviously has a similar mindset and passion behind it, but our beers are pretty malty comparatively. I think we’re more about sessions, about spices and we go a bit darker with our stuff- but isn’t that the beauty of craft beer? There’s something for everyone.
Jason Klein, co-founder, Spiteful Brewing
We think this is great for Chicago. Craft beer is finally gaining more acceptance in Chicago. This proves that we are becoming a craft beer destination and we will only get better. The taste of consumers here are finally changing from the watered down, tasteless macro beer to the amazing products put out by the established breweries here as well as the up and coming.
As a very small brewery, this does not worry us at all. If Lagunitas can help increase the market share for craft beer then it is better for us all. There is still a huge amount of people yet to discover great beer and this can only help that effort.
We personally love Lagunitas beer and have been drinking it for a long time. Our products will be similar in the fact that the beer will taste great and be about the quality of the beer itself, as well as the people behind it.
Chris Olmstead, co-founder, Brutally Honest Brewing
In a phrase, a rising tide floats all boats. We’re of the opinion that increased craft beer production is a universal positive. More production breweries means not only an increased availability of good beer for everyone, but also solidifies Chicago as beer-focused town. From a start-up/homebrewer perspective, that means more potential beer drinkers developing tastes for quality brew, which translates to generally increased interest in our product and potentially increased sales (if and when it comes to that).
Are we worried about there being more Lagunitas to drink? Not at all. While there is certainly a degree of brand loyalty among craft beer drinkers, we don’t know anyone who is solely a “Lagunitas Man”. Some days you’ve got a taste for a Maximus, some days you’re feeling more like a Dreadnaught and some days you just really want a Dirty Girl. In any case, we don’t want to flatter ourselves thinking that we are even in the same ballpark with Lagunitas. The “Chicago Nano-Brewery Revolution”, such as it exists at this point, seems to operate on a different level from even guys like Half Acre and Revolution. Besides, in our experience the craft beer community is still very friendly and collaborative, at all levels of production. It seems unlikely to us that bringing another major player to the Chicago scene is going to anything but raise the collective bar and inspire the rest of us.
At the end of the day, we really dig Lagunitas beer. Favorites include Little Sumpin’ Sumpin, it’s saucy cousin the Sumpin’ Wild, Brown Shugga (obviously) and that kickass Pils. Beyond their kickass beers, one of the things we admire most in Lagunitas is their reluctance towards super-small batch product. At the end of they day, they want as many people to enjoy their beer as possible, and we like that.
There you have it, folks. If I hear from any of Chicago’s other craft brewers today I’ll throw their quotes up onto the list as well, but I think it’s plain to see that the move of Lagunitas to the Windy City is being hailed by most as just another step in the city’s Great Awakening, when it comes to great beer. Personally, as a consumer, I can say that I can’t wait to have the opportunity to tour and visit the new brewery, replicating an experience of visiting Lagunitas out west. This is just one more day that I’m proud to be a Chicago native who loves craft beer.