Yesterday, the beer world was buzzing with the news that there will be a new big dog in Chicago. Lagunitas Brewing Co. owner and Chicagoland native Tony Magee announced in a string of Twitter updates Monday night that he has rented space in the Douglas Park neighborhood at 18th and Rockwell. [The Chicago Tribune clarified that Magee and the building owner have signed a letter of intent and expect to sign a lease soon]. The building is a former steel plant behind Cinespace Chicago Film Studios. There, Magee plans to install a brewhouse identical to the 250-barrel ROLEC-manufactured system that will soon be operational at Lagunitas’ existing facility in Petaluma, California.
Magee said that the idea to open a Chicago brewery came about as a result of thinking about the cost and environmental impact of sending his beer to far-flung regions in the brewery’s 32-state distribution footprint. Chicago will produce Lagunitas beer for all markets east of the Rockies, and lots of it. Each Lagunitas brewery will be able to produce about 600,000 barrels of beer per year. Goose Island, the longtime frontrunner in Chicago, projects 230,000 barrels for 2012, including the beer it is having produced at Anheuser-Bush facilities in Portsmouth and Baldwinsville.
Lagunitas sold $39 million worth of beer last year, and is on track to grow 50% in 2012. Opening a second brewery is becoming a trend for fast-growing regional craft breweries; Sierra Nevada and New Belgium recently announced their plans to open up shop in Asheville, North Carolina.
We caught up with Magee to learn more about his Chicago background and plans for the brewery.
Chitown On Tap: Tell us about your Chicago background. Assuming you were old enough, what was your beer experience like when you lived here?
Tony Magee: I was born in the city and lived on Greenleaf for a few years, but was raised out in the far-flung, mostly-farmland 1969 province of Arlington Heights. I drank my share of Old Style and Old Milwaukee, mostly standing in my father-in-law’s garage.
How does the Chicago beer market compare to the rest of the country?
Chicago is like Portland and San Francisco in 1995! All excitement and experimentation and new experiences. It is a cool wave to be a part of. Awakenings are beautiful things.
What makes it attractive for you besides the hometown connection?
Well, the Awakening thing for sure, but also because our beers have been so very well received in Chicago, almost from day one. It was sort of mystical. We entered a few cities about the same time and Chicago blossomed like none other. So, it’s good to have friends! But Chicago is also something less mystical and also important; It is the true crossroads of America when it comes to planes, trains, and automobiles, making it an excellent hub location. And, it’s Daniel Burnham and Mies Van Der Rohe and Taste and Louis Sullivan, Mortimer Adler, Cubs, Sox, Bears, Bulls, Fire, Blackhawks, Harold Washington, Clark Street, The Wild Hare and Singing Armadillo Sanctuary, and, and, and, and… Hardly a cooler place anywhere.
Cubs or Sox?
Cubs, but I was actually at the Disco Demolition and ran the bases!
Are you planning a taproom or anything consumer-facing in the facility?
Yup, that’s my hope. I hope to have a nice tasting room on-site and I hope people will come by for tours and such, for sure. There is a lot to work out and to learn before any of that is certain.
Tell us about the neighborhood.
Douglas Park is coming back and Cinespace has stabilized the immediate area. I wanted to make sure that we were not in a standard bar area because I don’t want to compete at all with our retailer friends in town.
How much of an identity will your brewers in Chicago be able to forge with one-offs, collaborations, etc?
What I’ll be aiming at is to make a little bit of NorCal in Douglas Park, but it is not possible to be in the world without becoming of the world too, so over time a very Chicago personality will develop!
Many writers have noted your unconventional approach to releasing this big news. Why no press release?
Some brewers have tens of thousands of Twitter and Facebook followers and I have a cool 6,000 [It's up to 7,396 after the buzz yesterday]. So, it seemed a more intimate way to break exciting news to our ‘family’ as it were. I hoped that if the news was interesting enough, they would help me tell the rest of the world, and here we are now talking about it! About twelve times every day I notice myself saying ‘It’s good to have friends!’