Lagunitas is a brewery we have always wanted to visit. So one sunny day in April we decided the time had come. So we loaded up the truck and hit the road for the ninety minute drive to Petaluma, a wine-country town an hour north of San Francisco. Lagunitas has always been a favorite of ours, due to the flavor, experimental nature, and the widespread availability of their flagship beer, Lagunitas IPA. Even today, there are many instances when a bar or restaurant will have only one real choice for a craft beer drinker and very often that choice is Lagunitas IPA. Years ago, before this latest craft-beer explosion, this was the case even more often. Lagunitas IPA is the measuring stick that all West Coast IPAs are compared to. Getting a chance to see where it comes from was an exciting prospect.
We arrived at an unassuming business park off the 101 freeway. The parking lot was full but there was plenty of street parking nearby. Walking up, we didn't get the sense this brewery is as large as it is. This is the second largest brewery in California and in the top five in the United States. Yet somehow they have managed to keep a small brewery vibe. But even with a small brewery vibe, the popularity was evident.
We added our name to the list for a tour and then walked in to their large patio area. Hundreds of people were enjoying the great weather, good food, and the beer was flowing! There were people young and old, celebrating birthdays, bachelorette parties, or just a sunny Saturday afternoon. There wasn't an empty table in the place.
We made our way to the bar, and after parsing their menu and circumventing the line, we made our selections. They had all of their standard beers available as well as some specialty beers that aren't available on the outside. Most of the beers were, as you would expect, full of fresh hop flavor.
Our tour was about to start and the staff happily provided us with plastic cups so we could bring a beer along for the tour. We weren't the only ones, the tour guide made sure to start off with a full pint. As a matter of fact, most of the employees at Lagunitas tackle their work day with beer-in-hand, from the hostesses to the parking attendants.
The tour (free of charge) came in two parts. Part 1 was a highly entertaining history lesson of the brewery. We heard the stories/legends of how founder Tony Magee started the brewery after just his 10th batch of homebrew. We heard about the growing pains of the brewery from finding enough space to exploding sewer systems. There was also a story or two of what I'll call highjinks.
As the tour continued, Part 2 took us into one of only two brewhouses they have on the premises to get a look at where the magic happens. It doesn't seem nearly big enough, but they have devised an incredibly modern and automated process that allows for them to churn out beer 24 hours per day. That, and the new addition of a state-of-the-art, 10-acre facility in Chicago will allow the brewery to produce over 1 million barrels of beer per year. That is enough to meet the demand of the entire U.S. as they start introducing their beer to Europe and the rest of the world.
Overall, I don't think we could have asked for a better brewery experience. The laidback vibe, the excellent beer selection, and an entertaining tour made for an great day. If you are ever in the North Bay area and want to check out one of California and the world's best breweries, you can't go wrong with Lagunitas.
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