BY CHARLES BERMAN AND RICH BIRD | SUN-TIMES MEDIA
The aroma of boiled hops and grains paired with the humming of bottling lines Friday morning marked Lagunitas Brewing’s official entrance into the Chicago craft beer scene.
The Northern California-based brewery has already had its bottles on the ground in Chicago for years, but its popular Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ ale and West Coast-style India Pale Ale will now be made with Lake Michigan water in a massive new brew house at 17th and Rockwell.
“Hometown makes a big difference because not only did I want to do it but also because I know the city and I understand the city,” said Lagunitas founder Tony Magee, a Buffalo Grove High School graduate who opened the brewery 20 years ago in Petaluma, Calif. “I know how people are here and I knew I could talk to them.
“Here in Chicago, it was already in my blood so it was a really easy thing to do.”
Operating out of Chicago also makes business sense. Magee cut out time zones, deserts and mountain ranges that stood between his beer and his Midwest clients.
Lagunitas’ beer portfolio currently is sold in 32 states, but Chicago’s new brewery takes the company into all 50.
The Chicago brewhouse, which duplicates Lagunitas’ Californiafacility, can produce more than 500,000 barrels of beer per year. After the entire warehouse is built out, Lagunitas will be able to brew and ship 1 million barrels a year, making it larger than all the craft breweries in Chicago combined.
According to Ash Notaney, executive vice president of operations, the expansion is not just about breaking into new states but bolstering the company’s position in existing markets, including its No. 1 city: Chicago.
“We’re doing business at about 70 percent, and that’s in growing markets as opposed to new markets. Chicago became our No. 1 market once we made the announcement that we were coming here,” he said.
Lagunitas Brewing Co. has officially started up production in Chicago. The first bottles we were filled and labeled on Friday at the new facility. | Jessica Koscielniak / Sun-Times
The new facility will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week with periodic shutdowns for maintenance and sanitization, Notaney said.
“The goal of this brewery is to make beer identical to what you see in Petaluma. The beer you’re taking [buying] here is the same as if the brewery were across the road from the one in Petaluma.”
Led by head brewer Mary Bauer, the Chicago facility started brewing a couple weeks ago and the first bottles came off the line this week.
Bauer, an Aurora native, studied chemistry at the University of Illinois and brings nine years of brewing experience at major beer companies across the country.
“I’m so excited to be home, back here and brewing beer on top of that, and starting up a brewery, and working for a fabulous company,” she said. “I mean, it was an easy decision.”