He’s still months away from opening his new brewery in Chicago, but Lagunitas founder Tony Magee is already emerging as a power player in the Second City’s thriving food and beverage scene. The website NewCityResto acknowledged Magee’s growing significance this week by naming him to their list “The Big Heat: Chicago’s Food & Drink Fifty 2013.” That puts him in the company of some of the best chefs and hospitality pros in the city, even in the country, including the legendary Rick Bayless and  Top Chef Season 4 winner Stephanie Izard. Tony comes in at #36.

“Goose Island sold out to A-B InBev and just like that, 312 was being made not just out of area code, but out of state,” they wrote, referring to the longtime craft brewery that sold itself to the makers of Bud in 2011. “What’s a lover of local, largish craft breweries to do? Await the opening of the new 1.7-million barrel Lagunitas brewery in Chicago later this year. The California-based maker of such delightful brews as A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale is building what it calls “the potentially largest craft brewing facility in the USofA” at 15th and Rockwell. Founder and Chicago native Tony Magee announced last month that the head brewer will be Mary Nowak, “a full-on capital ‘w’ Woman.” Lagunitas beer has been on a rapid growth curve in Chicago in advance of its brewery debut, thanks to a blend of tasty brews and savvy grassroots marketing, and the new facility will serve the stuff up to visitors in an elevated tap room overlooking all of the hot brewing action.”

Meanwhile, Tony has been in Chicago this week supervising the final frantic stages of construction, aiming to open later this year – perhaps December, he told me last month. He had been hoping to be open in October, but what with this and that – like the city requiring him to install a complete sprinkler system – the project got delayed a little. When the brewhouse opens, it will dwarf any other brewery in the city.

It appears to be dawning on him, however, that his crazy plan of building a second brewery might just be working. In fact, he took to his Twitter feed today to marvel at the fact that demand is so high that it is possible that the Chicago brewery might take just months to reach it’s 1.7 million barrel designed capacity, rather than taking several years to ramp up. Originally, he planned to make about 250,000 barrels per year at first, but his Petaluma brewery is maxed out at around 500,000 barrels and he still can’t meet demand.

“I told our tank builder, ROLEC, to ship 4-750bbl ferms every 3 months until we say stop,” he wrote. “They were slack jawed but said they’d do it…!”

And by that he means he is says he is ordering and endless stream of huge 750 barrel fermenting tanks, capable of holding 23,250 gallons at a time. He said they are frantically making changes on the fly, trying to add capacity even before the doors open.

Once the Chicago brewery reaches full capacity, it puts Lagunitas in position to challenge even the mighty Boston Beer Company, makers of Sam Adams, for the top spot as America’s largest craft brewer. Lagunitas was #6 just last year.

– Sean Scully