Lagunitas Brewing founder sounds off on craft beer industry leaders

tony magee barrels

Tony Magee kegstand (photo credit: Redtail Media, Jeffrey Neal)

UPDATE: Both Sierra Nevada and New Belgium declined to comment.

(Petaluma, CA) – Lagunitas Brewing Founder and Owner, Tony Magee, joined Aleheads this week for an audio interview that ran over 40 minutes. As BeerPulse readers know by now, Magee pulls no punches. Magee has been critical of brewers’ support for excise tax reduction amidst rampant growth of the craft beer industry [it’s stayed in the back channels so nothing to link to…sorry!]. Magee also called out the practice of using cans recently. This interview is ‘textbook’ Tony.

These notes only scratch the surface but here are a few highlights.

On Lagunitas IPA and another Cali brewer trend-watching:

Interviewer: So there is the Lagunitas IPA…what were some of the other beers that helped your national expansion?

Magee: The IPA is still about 60% of our business but we still make all these other beers because they’re a gas to brew and we just like them.

Interviewer: Still the #1 IPA in California I believe, right?

Magee: It was until that other big brewery started driving in the rearview mirror and decided that they had to be making an IPA, too. And they have such incredible distribution relationships that they were able to make it more popular in the grocery stores. But I think if you added up all the barrels, kegs as well as cases, still more of our IPA is drunk than anyone else’s. That’s alright. There are still a lot of great beers. The reason that ours may be more enjoyed is because we have been making that IPA exactly the way it is now since ’96. And in ’96, believe it or not, it was one of the hoppiest things that anyone had ever tasted. The palate has come so far down the road, it’s unbelievable.

On Barrel-aging, trend-watching (and New Belgium):

Magee: I think barrel-aging is a wonderful thing and I think that smaller brewers that want to mess with that…it’s an unplowed furrow. But I don’t need to plow every furrow. If somebody else is pioneering that stuff and making skills around it, what do I want to fill into their market for? Who is that brewery in Colorado that makes that sort of strange amber ale? When I see them all of a sudden making an IPA and they never put hops in their beers, what is it that they’re really trying to do? Oh, I see. They’re driving in the rearview mirror while trying to cut off other brewers from finding daylight. It’s odd. The things that they did worked very well for them. Why do they have to do what others are doing? It’s kind of Budweiser-ish.

On Collaborations and motives:

Interviewer: Will you be doing any collaborations with Chicago brewers?

Magee: No and not for any ideological reasons. We all work hard to build our brands. I think there are some less than adorable motives behind doing collaborations. Sometimes, people are preying on each other’s customers. Sharing, of course, brings ideas forward but I think there are Machiavellian motives at play sometimes. That’s just my view. When the world was so enamored with fruit beers in the 90s, we wouldn’t do one either. There are trends and there are fads. I like being involved with trends and we’ll leave the fads for others.

On breweries using public funds to expand:

Magee: My peer brewers…it’s kind of a corporate approach to running a business. You got to know that they went deeply into the public trough to fund the brewing operation which I could never do in a million years. What that yielded were state employment grants, tax deferments and special dispensation of cash. If anyone reads the papers, it is a pretty dry trough. So what’s a f&^$*#@ rich business like those doing that for rather than just bearing their own weight and bringing value to a community? After we did the thing in Chicago, someone from the Mayor’s office was talking to someone we were working with and they were a little of upset that we hadn’t gone to them first to allow us all to make the announcement together. There was a desire from the political world to be involved in these sorts of things.

Interviewer: Well, they want to take credit for it.

Magee: Exactly. But the quid pro quo is that we would be indebted and I’m kind of a libertarian about things. We’re a quarter of the size of Sierra Nevada and this pays over and over and over again. I would be embarassed to have asked for public assistance.

Interviewer: Was it difficult to get the financing [for the Chicago deal]?

Magee: No. No. No. Not even a little.

On California vs. the Midwest:

Magee: I’m going to try hard to meet with the other production breweries in Chicago. The Aleheads thing was beautiful. The things that the brewers that responded said kind of brought me to my knees while I was reading it and I’m not saying that for the purposes of talking to you here. It was really true. It was unbelievable. The things they said no California brewer would ever say because the California artifice is very important. That is part of why the culture here is [so full of new ideas?]. You can just re-invent yourself, say what you are and you become that. Midwest people are very practical and I’m more like that.

On Samuel Adams:

Magee: The industry is changing. How can you have a two-million barrel brewer selling under the same flag as a guy who makes 1,000 barrels and brews and delivers it all himself? It’s not the same business. The two-million barrel brewery is a half-a-billion-dollar-a-year business. He’s in the capital management business. The other guy is living for the liquid. We’re in different businesses. There’s craft and there’s crafty. It’s like pornography. You know it when you see it.

On Lagunitas Sucks (paraphrased):

Lagunitas is also “working hard” to put Lagunitas Sucks in 32 oz. stubby (squat) bottles. “We’re going to cram it in next to the Schlitz Malt Liquor and all the ‘Hood beers.'” It will be a year-round release with varied packaging beginning this fall. Magee gives credit to Les Claypool and Primus who put out bumper stickers that said “Primus Sucks.” He had wanted to do a beer called “Lagunitas Sucks” for 10-12 years and finally had the opportunity when the company ran up against capacity and couldn’t produce some of its usual beers this past winter.

On new brewhouse (paraphrased):

Magee tells the story of how the brewhouse was destroyed on the way to Petaluma and how there was a port strike in Mexico that furthered delays. The new brewhouse finally arrived and will go online the first week of May. The first brew is going to be a Barleywine because it “doesn’t have a standard flavor to it.” They will brew 5-6 batches. They’ll be able to learn how the new system scales up this way.

Lastly, Magee also had some things to say about Anheuser-Busch and Goose Island. Like what? Head over to the Aleheads podcast and listen to the whole interview.


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28 thoughts on “Lagunitas Brewing founder sounds off on craft beer industry leaders

  1. Awesome interview, but I don’t think Lagunitas IPA has been brewed the same way since the start. I’ve seen cases that have different abv and ibu numbers on them–the newer cases had lower, more approachable numbers. As Lagunitas grows, their flagship beer will have to be approachable to continue to draw new fans.

  2. not sure where he was going on Sam but if he’s being critical, I don’t see how he can be. So Boston Beer uses some public funds. You kind of have to to raise money quick enough to do all the cool projects he’s doing. I’m so tired of people equating craft beer with small breweries that probably have a handful of employees. That doesnt make it craft. What makes it craft is when you dont conglomerize with the big 3 and you take pride in what you brew. And it doesnt hurt to experiment like Jim Koch does. Look you can stick with what you know, or you can be a trailblazer.

  3. So you’re saying that Goose Island, who makes beers like Bourbon County Brand Stout, Sophie, King Henry, and Juliet, isn’t a craft brewer? Yeah right.

  4. Only in craft beer will you find business owner’s like this who don’t care about being PC and just say what they feel. Just another reason I love this industry and all the characters that make it what it is.

  5. Now that Lagunitas is going to be running two 250bbl breweries does Tony think Lagunitas should be in the tax bracket with Sam Adams or with the 1,000bbl/yr brewery bracket?

  6. Trailblaze-Hell yeah! These boys walked into NYC and did IT like no other. (Pat & Ron) The most Real brewery I had ever seen walk the streets! Never stopped until the party could handle itself! Rock on boys!

  7. What a shcmuck!!! Doesn’t he realize he would be nothing if it weren’t for the folks that were around before him and grew larger than him in the process like Sam, Sierra and NBB. To take shots at the very folks that helped put Lagunitas on the map is pretty chicken shit. Hey Tony, ever heard of product evolution. If the consumers tastes are the same in 20 years as they are today and your products don’t reflect that change, my guess is that you’ll be bussing tables somewhere. Just because a brewer wasn’t known for hoppy beers doesn’t mean you should hate them because they developed a beer using hops that is more drinkable for a broader range of people than yours. Lets see how quick you are to take the same stance as some of your predecessors when (and if) you grow to their size. Sounds like he is just a jealous SOB. There’s lots of good eggs out there- too bad this guys wants to destroy the good reputation of so many before him.

  8. I love this. We are at a point where we need other factors besides taste to determine what IPA we buy and drink (the ‘local’ factor probably being the front-runner). This guy’s no-nonsense attitude and his openness in sharing his actual opinions are both making me really want to go buy some Lagunitas.

  9. Mr Tdowns… For the record, Lagunitas is at the same tax rate as Sam Adams.. although we produce 1/10th as much beer- but I’m cool with that. Them’s the rules of the game.

    And Mr Ryan… I already have bussing tables on my resume,.. That was 1983!

    Thanks all for the friendly comments! When all this is actually happening next year we wont dissapoint your optimism!


    A. Schmuck

  10. What a weird jealous creep. God forbid Sierra Nevada makes a good IPA.

    I also hate that his “no-nonsense” way is celebrated, when in reality he’s just a dunce.

  11. Love the honesty and love the Lagunitas.
    I can’t wait to be sipping on a quart of Sucks but I’ll be damned if I spill some for my homies, they ain’t gettin’ of my Sucks!
    Cheers Tony, keep up the good work.

  12. Way to go Tony. This will be a win-win for Chi Town and Lagunitas. You were spot on with your comments, especially noting Midwestern Values. Best of luck.

  13. Tony,
    I know where you stand in the tax bracket now, and that Sam is producing ten times your current volume. My question is, when you have both 250bbl brewhouses up and running and are producing similar volumes to sam adams do you still think you fall into the craft, not “crafty”, category and should be taxed the same as the guy in the 1000bbl bracket?
    Just a question, I appreciate the honesty in your statement, and agree with most of it.


  14. Greetings Tdowns… I’m totally into the ‘give onto Caesar what is Caesar’s” thing… The Buffet Rule thinking too… paying taxes is a privilege and a burden of succeeding at a thing. So- yes, when and if Lagunitas is allowed by the universe and the Aleheads to grow all the way to 2,000,000 barrels I will be well ‘beyond the dreams of avarice’ and would see the tax-rate increase as a badge of honor- just the same as when Lagunitas crossed the 60,000 barrel tax-rate increase. No posturing here. If you think about it, most would do the same… if they stopped and thought about it.

  15. …and about the craft vs crafty… like the man said; stupid is as stupid does. But, by the time we grow, if we grow, to that size.. the average craft brewer might be more like 100,000 barrels and not 10,000 and EVERYTHING will be so different that the size might not really be the thing that makes the difference anymore…

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  17. Sounds like sour grapes to me. Torpedo is the #1 IPA on the planet because it’s a superior liquid to Lagunitas IPA. His own sales people in the street say the same thing(not subjective but fact based). Lagunitas is a cute brewery but taking cheap shots at Mr Grossman is inexcusable. That man is a trailblazer and between him and Fritz, created the segment, have respect for the people that keep you relevant.Also keep in mind that Mr Maghee thinks it’s funny that his brewers got busted by the cops for smoking weed on premise at the brewery. So much so, he created some swill named after the 420 holiday.He is one of those guys who prides himself on ” trying” to be different, kinda Jim Cookish. His creditability is suspect, just like his lineup of beers.

  18. Oh, cute Tony being cute Tony again. This guy just seems like your friend’s dad who tries to hard, doesn’t he? He probably wears those toe shoes too.

    And, for perspective reasons, keep in mind that Lagunitas distributes in more states (including Canada) than New Belgium. Don’t act like NB is some “Budweiser-ish” giant, dude.

  19. Pathetic little man:((( Who knows nothing about fermentation and needs to work on his people skills

  20. Wish his beers were as memorable as his public demeanor.

    I got called to do a beer focus group last month (jealous?). We blind tasted a bunch of IPAs. I think the focus group sponsor was Sierra. Torpedo was in the middle. Lagunitas was everybody’s least favorite. The top? NBB’s Ranger. Pretty funny considering Tony’s comment

  21. To all you people who think commenting on this interview in negative ways is the right thing to do, get a life! How old are we? Calling names? If you spend your time on these websites just waiting to comment something ridiculous then why don’t you use that time to start your own brewery if you apparently know so much and do as well as this one has. Go drink your bud light and call it a day.

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  23. Passion, truth, confusion, more passion… Freedom? Beerocracy. I’m pretty sure tony loves Sierra, NBB and all self aware, pioneering brewers. Thanks for being honest tony, sometimes it’s not going to get you a hot bath and a kind word but you spoke your mind and that’s what we’re supposed to do to keep change the constant. There’s nothing wrong with the “stick your foot in your mouth” syndrome, it allows you to learn profound ideas. Discomfort always effects reaction and self discovery always creates change, good or bad, it’s something, and we all know that’s better than nothing! I’m happy we are all in this together.

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