There is in journalism a concept known as “burying the lead,” which means to put the biggest news somewhere down in the middle of a story rather than up top, where it belongs.
And I did that exact thing with this morning’s story on Lagunitas rising to #5 on the Brewers Association list of top producing craft brewers.
Possibly the most interesting news in that story actually comes toward the end, where Lagunitas founder Tony Magee says he is already thinking about building a third new brewery within the next three years, even though his brand new expansion brewery in Chicago has been in production for less than a week (That video at the top of this post is some footage shot by a Lagunitas employee on the first full day of production in Chicago last week – a little treat they sent us at the request of our Digital Director Greg Retsinas).Even more provocative, he is considering building or buying a brewery in Europe at some point to serve a growing thirst for flavorful American beers.
I was tempted to trumpet that up top, because it would be a huge point of pride for our home-grown success story at Lagunitas, and also pretty big news in the beer world. Tony himself, however, talked me down a little bit.
Partly, he points out correctly, the news is a little premature – he hasn’t even talked to his bank or started scouting locations, so in a sense it’s just an amorphous plan with no particular foundation as yet.
But more importantly, the news is less ambitious and revolutionary than it seems, simply because Lagunitas is so huge at this point that the rules of scale that we’d normally see with a smaller craft brewery no longer apply. If a smallish brewery such as Windsor’s St. Florian’s or Santa Rosa’s Moonlight were to buy a massive 1,000-barrel fermentation tank, it would be a very, very big deal – an instant expansion of 50 percent or more.
At a brewery as big as Lagunitas, meanwhile, a 1,000 barrel fermenter is just one of dozens of huge tanks. Adding one more would hardly cause a blip on the annual production report. At even bigger producers such as Anheuser-Busch or Miller-Coors, the gain or loss of such a tank wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow.
So, Tony explains, if he is serious about continuing to grow at anything like the rate he has been growing (his capacity has quintupled in only about four years), he’s going to have to start talking about adding entirely new brewhouses, not just a tank or two here and there, as he used to be able to do. So talking about a third brewery is simply a natural part of planning for the future. As long as he has unmet demand – and he’s got 14 U.S. states yet to reach and an entire planet of overseas demand – then he’s required to be thinking about adding new facilities.
“I’m reinventing the wheel,” he told me this week. It’s hardly big news that mass market brewers scatter their production all over the world. “We’re already making little bits all over the place,” he said. “That’s the way it should be.”
– Sean Scully