Bob Townsend's picture

Lagunitas Brewery Tour

Tony Magee, the founder of the Lagunitas Brewing Company, has become something of a legend for his unorthodox approach to the beer business.
Tony Magee, the founder of the Lagunitas Brewing Company, has become something of a legend for his unorthodox approach to the beer business.

He formulates the brewery’s recipes, which tend toward the strong and hoppy, gives his beers names like Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale and the Hairy Eyeball, and seems to delight in confounding the style police.

Magee also clearly enjoys writing the oddly philosophical, libertarian-meets-psychedelic “stories” that appear in fine print on the side panels of Lagunitas labels.

One, titled “A Parable And A Paradox,” references Kafka and admonishes: “Trust your own taste buds, they can not lie to you. Enjoy the beer you like for reasons that are yours and yours alone. Always Think Globally, Drink Locally!”

Those words are a fine guide to visiting the Lagunitas brewery, about 40 miles north of San Francisco in the town of Petaluma, Calif., where surrounding Sonoma County has become synonymous with fine wine, organic farming and artisanal foods.

Situated in a nondescript industrial park on the east side of Highway 101, the Lagunitas offices and brewery are on busy North McDowell Boulevard. But out back, cows can often be seen grazing in a pasture. And there’s a similar contrast between the hustle and bustle of beer production and the laid-back enjoyment of the fruits of that labor.

A new, state-of-the-art brewhouse was installed in 2008, built by the same German company, ROLEC Prozess-und Brautechnik GmbH, that previously installed systems at the Stone and Victory breweries. The shiny 80-barrel setup increased Lagunitas capacity to over 150,000 barrels a year. Beer geeks will enjoy going on a brewery tour to check out all the little bells and whistles, including the cool hop-dosing vessels, and a specially designed apparatus for adding all that sweet brown sugar to the Brown Shugga’ strong ale.

Away from the rock-and-roll clang of the bottling and packaging machinery but within wafting range of the aroma of malt and hops, the Lagunitas Tap Room and Beer Sanctuary offer food, drink and live music. The indoor-outdoor oasis retains some of the funky charm of the company’s roots in rural West Marin county, where, back in 1993, Magee started out brewing a few hundred barrels of beer a year.

On occasion, Magee may be on stage performing behind the acoustic guitar he keeps in his office. If he’s not leading a brewery tour you’re likely to find Lagunitas’s “beer weasel,” Ron Lindenbusch, hanging out chatting and sipping a few pints.

Outside, Sanctuary guests can grab a seat under an umbrella or at one of the long, Oktoberfest-style banquet tables in the beer garden. Inside, the Tap Room scene is an irreverent version of a Sonoma wine tasting room, with all the Lagunitas year-round and seasonal beers on draft, plus guests taps and a few wines.

Among the seasonal goodies, look for Cappuccino Stout (made with real coffee), Olde GnarlyWine (a strong, barley wine-style brew) and Imperial Red Ale (a double version of the original Lagunitas Red from 1993). Of course, the “unlimited releases” include the best-selling I.P.A., crispy Pils and hefty Imperial Stout.


scrapmetal's picture
Been there 1 of the best outdoor brew pubs in america with plexi skylight for 365 days per year enjoyment. So busy on a weekday that security needed to park all the vehicles arriving from the freeway! Nice store-food and employees