It was more of a party than a book signing. Chicagoan Tony McGee, CEO of Lagunitas Brewing Co., invited patrons over to the Lagunitas Chicago outpost at 2607 W. 17th St. to preview his new book, So You Want to Start a Brewery?: The Lagunitas Story. It came out October 1 and is available online and even in a Kindle edition. The book signing was on a Tuesday (October 21), which was unusual because the brewery typically reserves the taproom Monday and Tuesday nights for free use by local not-for-profit organizations. However, when you’re the boss, you get to party when you want. And since Joe seems to be our party guy lately, we sent him to cover the event.
Starting at 6:30 pm, folks started pouring into the tasting room, aka The Basement, a room designed for private parties with a variety of eclectic furnishings. When a huge banner the brewery had printed was too heavy to actually hang on the front of the building, Tony & company cleverly used it to partition a playroom from one section of the brewery floor. It’s a fun-looking place with a variety of toys, including a Lagunitas Barbie and two very cute company-logo toy trucks (see slideshow for views and details).
Naturally, as book signings go, the event was free. There was also a raffle for Lagunitas “schwag,” which is any fun stuff with the company logo on it. Naturally, copies of the book were available for purchase (and will be from now on in the gift shop as well). Beer fans were treated to samples of the house brews, from the illustrious Lagunitas IPA to the brewery’s take on pilsner (the most expensive brew they make, but it’s Tony’s wife’s favorite, so there you go). While the audience was indulging, Tony was interviewed for nearly an hour by the Chicago Tribune’s beer writer, Josh Noel.
Lagunitas is based in Petaluma, CA, but Tony himself was born in Chicago’s Rogers Park and raised in the northwest suburbs. The book, which is both an informal history of how Tony founded the company as well as a how-to book for would-be brewmaster entrepreneurs, is actually an update of an earlier limited edition printing in 2012. That first edition was published by Charles Pinot, a publisher that’s really in the business of organizing executive retreats (go figure). The new edition, published by Chicago Review Press, covers the Lagunitas Chicago start-up, which has been operating and shipping out beer since March. Although the Chicago taproom opened only about five months ago, it’s been going great guns ever since, and the company as a whole continues to thrive. Lag-Chi also the first brewery to open in greater Lawndale since the Bohemians left, which is nothing to sneeze at, and one of the few located near Route 66 in any state.
The book may not be completely new, but Tony did spill some news that has been hinted at on his Twitter feed: he stunned the audience by revealing that Lagunitas is considering further major expansions – possibly to Atlanta and elsewhere in the U.S., and maybe into the U.K. He also told some personal stories about growing the business, which all began when his younger brother gave him a beer-making kit for Christmas and Tony took over his wife’s kitchen trying it out (that didn’t last long). Before he knew it, Magee was in the craft beer business.
We should note that Joe here has contributed a historic beer-can collection to Lag-Chi’s taproom display. It came to about 900 cans, we estimate. The good folks in the taproom don’t have the shelves built yet, but they appreciated the contribution. And while we’re at it, a big shout-out to Ryan Sweeney in PR/events and Jake the Snake, one of our favorite tour guides. Meanwhile, Marie has been noticing the new Chicago-oriented ad campaigns with colors from the city’s flag and silhouettes of our skyline. Even their trademark dog on the billboards has a Chicago-style collar (see photo below). Cool!!
Lagunitas Chicago is located about three blocks south of historic Route 66/Ogden Avenue a few blocks west of Western Avenue. To get there, turn south off Ogden Avenue at Rockwell Avenue and go down to 17th Street, then turn into the parking lot. That’s in the Douglas Park area of slowly regentrifying Lawndale, which is on the near southwest side and just southwest of the medical district. The taproom on the mezzanine, which has an excellent food menu as well as a considerable beer menu, is open to the public Wednesday through Sunday, 11am until 9pm. You can expect live music several nights a week, and there’s plenty of parking. Who knows? Some night, you may see us there.
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Until next time,
Joe and Marie