There’s launch parties, and then there’s LAUNCH PARTIES. Lagunitas Brewing Co., well-known for its beloved West Coast beers and circus-like throwdowns in its California hometown of Petaluma, welcomed close to 4000 curious Chicagoans into its sparking new facility for a glimpse into the future of our city’s craft beer king in waiting.
Originally a Chicago suburb native, Lagunitas owner Tony Magee had always kept the idea of expanding his brewery operations to his old stomping grounds in the back of his head. When the opportunity finally presented itself, he and his team jumped in with both feet. While there have been a handful of delays in opening the doors to the public, once one steps into the massive facility that seems like it could house a couple of baseball stadiums, it’s easy to understand how getting something of this magnitude up to snuff could hit some snags along the way. The expansive tap room that will overlook the entire brewery is rumored to be ready by May, but given their history in estimations, I wouldn’t go making any non-refundable plans to visit.
The recent Two-Four-One-Four-Not-So-Dry-Run Celebration was everything you’d expect from a Lagunitas party – beer, bands and burlesque mixed with visual oddities, affable staff members and Magee taking the stage with his guitar to front a set of rocking tunes. The beer selection featured the brewery’s staples (Lil Sumpin Sumpin, IPA, Dogtown Pale and Pils), which all went down with a hint of that extra freshness you’d expect from a taproom pour. Throughout the night, I continually stopped in my tracks, gazed in wide wonder at the sheer enormity of the brewery and party, and remarked to whoever was around me, “I can’t believe how big this is.” I probably looked a lot like Charlie Bucket upon entering the Wonka factory…minus the curly, blonde locks.
As colossal and awe-inspiring as the Lagunitas Chicago facility is, the people and vibe surrounding the brewery somehow manage to make it feel like a casual, blue collar business. We already knew the Chicago craft beer market was steering in the right direction, and adding Lagunitas as one of our captains has lent a sense of reassurance that we’re traveling in an experienced, well-constructed ship. This party dutifully served that point, leaving resounding impressions on anyone who was lucky enough to attend. Mine was that Magee has merely pulled back the curtain on his Chicago operation…just wait until the power switch is turned on.