I’m a Craft Beer Enthusiast (CBE). That means indie (ugh, hate that word) all the way. Ownership matters! Down with Big Beer!
“Dude, Heineken just bought 50% of Lagunitas!”
Okay. Um, I’m fine with that. Just a partnership, right? Trying to open up some distribution channels, make some inroads into some new markets. That’s fine. They’re long since past the days of being the neighborhood nano, right? They’ve hit a ceiling where they are, and this is the next step in their evolution, right?
“Dude! Magee just sold the other 50%. Lagunitas is now 100% Heineken!!”
This one hurts.
I love Lagunitas. It was so West Marin. So un-marketed. So idiosyncratic.
So, um, indie (sorry).
Don’t get me wrong. 99.999999% of people who heard Heiny bought half of Lagunitas knew they’d buy the other half at some point. I mean, duh.
But I didn’t think it would happen so quickly. And apparently I never really came to grips with the ramifications of that eventuality.
Basically, what am I supposed to do now?
If I want to keep my CBE cred, I need to disown Lagunitas and everything it now stands for. They’ve committed the ultimate sin and gone corporate. I should dump the remaining bottles of Waldos I have in the fridge and burn my logo t-shirt, preferably in front of many passers-by and TV news cameras, in the ultimate display of disgust of yet another Craft Brewer selling out to The Man.
But. I just. Can’t.
Aside from putting out some phenomenal product, Lagunitas is special.
I mean, c’mon. Tony Magee’s wake-n-bake ethos exudes from every pore of every product they produce.
Undercover Shutdown Ale — a big F-U to the infamous supposed pot bust of 2005.
Brown Shugga — a giant bandage on a brew that went completely wrong, which ended up making the whole body stronger in the long run.
Lagunitas Sucks — a bandage on the bandage that somehow gave the body bionic powers.
Plus, I have my own emotional ties to that special piece of ground in Petaluma.
A couple of years back, I was a student in Sonoma State’s inaugural Craft Beer Appreciation Certificate Program, which consisted of a 12-week course of study. Instead of being taught in some stuffy, boring classroom on campus, it was held in the employee break room at Lagunitas.
Jay Brooks was our instructor, and for that first course, he lined up an astounding array of speakers and presenters.
How astounding? How about Don Barkley (who worked at freakin’ New Albion, for cryin’ out loud!), Natalie and Vinny Cilurzo, Dan Gordon, Mark Carpenter, Sean Paxton, Mitch Steele, Matt Brynildson, and Pete Slosberg, among others.
I mean, seeing this parade of the architects of the current craft beer movement lay down their vast amounts of knowledge on you week in and week out, how is the place NOT going to be magical?
Plus, just the vibe there was special. It was just … funky. The brewer’s loft, where we had orientation and a few class sessions, was a stoner’s basement with taps, complete with gnarly couches, paneling on every visible surface, and marijuana bags on the walls. The taproom was a clubhouse. The patio was your cool friend’s backyard.
Everything about it screamed anti-establishment.
And now they’re a part of it. And I have to deal with it.
But really, this comes down to WHO actually bought them.
If this had been another ABInBev purchase, it’d be a no-brainer. As much as it would pain me, Lagunitas and I would have to part ways.. End of discussion.
But Heineken? Here’s where it gets complicated.
As an American beer drinker, I’m very aware of what ABI is trying to do to the American craft landscape. Buy up well-performing, receptive mid-size breweries that are easy to scale up, take the brews national with their existing brewing and distribution networks, and undercut local competition with their economies of scale, all the while completely obscuring their ownership of these former craft brands.
Heineken, I just don’t know. The two parties are definitely saying the right things — Lagunitas will remain and independent entity within the company, all employees will keep their jobs, and Magee is still running the show while now serving on Heineken’s board.
But is Heineken as predatory as ABI seems to be? Will they use the Lagunitas brand to make inroads into and eventually dominate emerging international craft markets?
I honestly don’t know. I’d like to think not, but that’s the part of me that so dearly wants to continue to love Lagunitas as much as I have in the past.
For now, the Waldos are still in the fridge, the shirt remains unscorched, and I’m still holding on to my CBE card.
But time will tell whether or not Lagunitas really Sucks.