Welcome to the latest edition of The Well—a 4-minute breakdown of the stories behind your favorite alcohol brands.
On tap this week: Lagunita’s, the cult-favorite beer producer famous for its IPA and the founder’s somewhat unhinged Tumblr posts.
The Drama Around Lagunitas
It’s the story of the little craft brewery that could. In 1993, a man named Tony Magee started Lagunitas Brewing Company in Lagunitas, California, after tinkering with a home brewing kit he’d received for Christmas the year before. Bucking the trend of pale ales at the time, he started crafting a more old-timey, super hoppy beer: India pale ales, a.k.a. IPAs.
Turns out people were into the big hops. Lagunitas grew quickly, and Magee soon moved the headquarters to Petaluma, CA. Business boomed and the vibes were chill. So chill, in fact, that the parties they would throw at 4:20 attracted the attention of the cops. The authorities put a sting operation in place along with a 20-day suspension, though legend has it that the cops were never able to charge anyone with selling weed because the employees kept just giving it away for free.
And we’re not saying Lagunitas was trolling all the narcs when they eventually got into producing several other cannabis-inspired brews like Kronik and Waldo’s Special Ale in addition to beer called SuperCritical that’s actually made with cannabis terpenes, but we’re not not-saying that either.
Lagunitas’ success seemed to be everywhere. So everywhere, in fact, that in 2014, they filed a lawsuit against Sierra Nevada over their very similar-looking IPA labels (though the lawsuit was dropped a month later). In 2015, Heineken acquired a 50% stake in the brand, and then the remaining 50% in 2017, for a total of around a billion dollars.
All of which is to say that that home brew experiment turned out alright (though the Heineken acquisition resulted in Lagunitas being stripped of its “craft brewery” designation by the Brewer’s Association, and if you read Magee’s 2,000 word Tumblr diatribe regarding the sale, there appears to be some mixed emotions.)
Regardless, Lagunitas is here to stay: It’s one of the best-selling IPAs in the world. Cheers to that.
Why I Love Lagunitas
- It’s a very easy-to-drink IPA. Not too light or too aggressive.
- Pairs well with your classic bar food like wings and nachos.
Growth & Marketing, Saucey