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2014 BEST Local Brewery: Lagunitas Brewing Company

Author: Julie Fadda Powers
May, 2014 Issue

“The IPA craze started about 10 years ago. We saw it coming.” —Ron Lindenbusch

When Tony Magee first started brewing Lagunitas beer in 1994, he was a one-man show. He made 700 barrels (there are 2 kegs, or about 14 cases of beer, in a barrel) and loaded his Ford Ranger with kegs to sell to local bars and restaurants.
It was an instant hit. The next year, he made 2,880 barrels and began bottling that July. The first full year of bottling (1996), he and a few employees he’d hired produced and distributed (via a distribution company) 7,800 barrels. By 2013, the company made 399,420 barrels. This year, with the opening of its second brewery, located in Chicago, it projects more than 600,000 barrels will be made. And plans are on the horizon for a third location, likely in the South or along the East Coast.
Ron Lindenbusch, CMO (although it says “beer weasel” on his card) was the company’s third employee, hired in 1995. At the time, the brewery was based in Lagunitas (in the San Geronimo Valley). It moved to Petaluma in early 1995 and spent its first four years there on Ross Street, until it expanded and moved to its current location on N. McDowell Blvd., where you’ll find the brewery as well as a tap room that offers nine choices of beer year-round, eight to 10 seasonal choices annually and some terrific pub food. “It’s where beer tourists and locals can hang out and drink fresh at the source,” says Lindenbusch. It’s open Wednesdays through Sundays. On Mondays and Tuesdays, it’s closed and the space is donated as an event space, most often to nonprofit organizations.
It also hosts several events annually, including concerts that showcase both up-and-coming and well-known talent in its onsite amphitheater (the “LaguMiniAmphitheaterette”). Most are free (unless they’re fund-raisers). “It’s a thank-you to the community for drinkin’ so much,” says Lindenbusch. Past performers include Emmylous Harris, Les Claypool, Peter Rowan, Vintage Trouble and more. The Lagunitas Beer Circus, a fund-raiser for the Petaluma Music Festival (which raises money to support music in local schools) will be held June 8 this year and is always a sell-out, featuring beer from many local (and some not) craft brewers as well as food, entertainment, costumed revelers, human-powered machinery and general shenanigans. It’s a true example of the light-hearted spirit the brewery puts forth. 
Lagunitas’ most popular beer, its IPA (India Pale Ale), was the third type of beer the company made, and its first seasonal beer, in 1995. It now makes up 50 to 60 percent of its total production. “The IPA craze started about 10 years ago,” says Lindenbusch. “We saw it coming.” The company describes the aromatic ale as “homicidally hopped for drinking enjoyment.” A couple more popular offerings are Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ (filtered and smooth wheat pale ale) and Pils, a Czech-style pilsner. When I visited, I tried the seasonal “Cappuccino Stout,” which is brewed with coffee beans (about a pound per barrel), and has a rich coffee flavor. “It’s breakfast beer,” smiles Lindenbusch.
If you can’t make it to the tap room, Lagunitas is largely distributed and easy to find. You can even find its beer at many beer and music festivals. This year, its events team will be on location at BottleRock in Napa and at Bonaroo in Tennessee, among many others. It traveled to South By Southwest in Austin earlier this year and also rents the Skunk Train two weekends per year. Cheers!



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