Yea, you read that headline correctly. Heineken is the third largest brewer in the world, and has acquired a 50% stake in Lagunitas Brewing Company, the small-town brewery that has outgrown it’s barrels.
This came as quite a blow to me, personally. Lagunitas is (dare I say it?) my favorite
brewing company- not only for their beers, but for their culture. It is one of my favorite places to visit, despite the somewhat harrowing drive after a few brews. Quite alternatively, Heineken is one of the few beers that quite honestly make me rather be the DD than drink. So you can imagine my surprise when two beers that I feel completely opposite about are suddenly mentioned in the same sentence.
As expected, Lagunitas founder (and hero) Tony Magee has been very adamant about reassuring us hop heads that Lagunitas will remain an independent force. I am hopeful that this is true, however, I think I’m also just a reasonably skeptical. That story of “rad independent (fill in the blank) sells out to corporate powerhouse” is all too familiar, and we’ve seen too many brands lose the “je ne sais quoi” that makes them attractive in the first place.
That being said, I visited Lagunitas not even two weeks ago and it became clear to me just how big they have gotten. In all senses, they have outgrown their Petaluma roots; they’ve expanded on the original site (and plan to continue to do so) and have also opened up operations in Chicago in efforts to facilitate production and shipping to the other side of the country and beyond. It was on this visit that I also learned that Lagunitas is also opening up yet another site in Azusa, California in order to keep up with the growing demand in the southern part of the state. Lagunitas is getting global recognition, and rightfully so. This visit also helped me understand that they are semi-struggling to keep up with it all.
With Heineken now having a 50% stake in the company, this means that Lagunitas will reach corners of the world that have yet to taste the delicious, hoppy nectar that had become the signature essence of Lagunitas. Who can be mad at that? I understand the reasoning behind this partnership, but I also can’t help but feel a little betrayed.
I am one for an underdog story. I love them. From my sports teams, to my favorite bands and now my favorite beer, I understand that it is an underlying goal for small time entities to make it big and to be successful. That is all well and good. My fear is that this new level of mass-production will eventually lead to a watered-down Lagunitas. I will continue to drink Lagunitas as long as they keep making beer, and so long as they are able to maintain the same level of integrity in producing quality beer that speaks, rather than mumbles.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this as well, so please comment below and feel free to participate in the poll as well!