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.