|Hop Stupid and Gueze (foreground) before tour|
On one of our early New York City trips, my wife and I were on the boat out to see the Statue of Liberty. Standing together at the very front of the boat, Gloria asked me what I thought of the statue. I paused before admitting—I thought it'd be bigger. My theory is that since the Statue of Liberty is often shot dramatically from a low angle, my expectations were too high.
Starting our beer and tree trip north of San Francisco at Lagunitas, my expectations were low but I was blown away by the attitude, history and size of the brewery: I thought it'd be smaller. While I like Lagunitas beers, my impression from their standard beers that make it to Minnesota would be comparable to more of a Summit, a safe regional brewery with solid regulars and a few edgy beers. On walking into the taproom and brewery, the large outdoor and clearly not air conditioned taproom on a 98 degree day did not bode well as a start. We hawked a table in the shade of the loud main bar and ordered a Hop Stoopid and Gueuze quickly since the tour was starting soon. A favorite of mine, the Hop Stoopid lived up to the billing and the Gueuze was more than acceptable as well. Having held off for lunch, we nibbled ferociously on the free bowl of munchies until we could have lunch after the tour.
|Fermentor tanks--much bigger place than I imagined|
There's no tour reservations, so we simply showed up a bit early for the 1 pm tour. Not hearing the "call" we were told would come, we took our beers to the front to join the tour as the top of the hour approached. The initial intro to Lagunitas was in the shade of the brewery with Tim our humorous tour guide, storytelling to help us finish our beers (mandatory) before heading inside. Without retelling all of the stories, originator Tony Magee is a bit of a wild card. Starting as a homebrewer because he was unemployed in 1992, he turned "pro" within a year in spite of a yeasty blow up of a 1940s septic tank under his first brewery. Both Censored and Undercover Shutdown have stories to show how Lagunitas has run afoul of the authorities over the years, a bad boy image that I was unaware of.
|New 250 barrel brewhouse|
|Keg filler in action|
As told my Tim, this roguish behavior led to all beery magnificence around us, including the massive stand of fermenting tanks that caught my eye and surprise on the way in to the taproom. Also on the tour was the new 250 barrel brewhouse, up from the original 80 barrel system, plus descriptions of the new 300,000 sq foot Chicago based brewery that will be twice the size and will run 24/7 to cut costs on logistics while serving a thirsty Midwest. Between the origin mythology and clear growth of the brand, Lagunitas is a much different brewery than I had in my head from drinking them at a distance. Another thread in Tim's storytelling was the importance of relationships to Lagunitas, including employees, regulars and the community around the taproom. This included charity events with donated beer for good causes, most recently raising $20,000 for a local fisherman whose boat sank. I found myself fascinated with how far off my perceptions were and wondering why the Lagunitas story and image had never really reached me.
Too far from another stop, we had to have lunch before leaving, so we headed back to fight for a seat at the bar to hide from the sweltering heat. While some at the bar were seemingly locals in the taproom, there were also a large number of sampler trays going out from the bar, so we were not the only tourists in the place. We staked out a spot at the corner of the bar, in part, with the help of Dave and Meredith from Salem, OR, our new beer friends by the end of the stop. They were at the end of their beer trip as we were on our first day in the same basic area, so they gave us advice, including how to get a beer at Russian River by standing at the end of the bar instead of behind the throngs. While we all chatted, Gloria and I had the roasted veggie avocado sandwich for lunch, which was fabulous; it good enough that we almost stopped again on the way south back to San Francisco.
|Main bar from corner where we sat|
On to the specialty samples (we only had one set; pictured are Dave and Meredith's full sets of all beers). A range of beers, including Fusion 15 and Fusion 16 (never figured out what either was but 15 was better), an excellent Farmhouse ale and Lucky 13. Then came three barrel aged beers, all good, but the Rye Barrel Aged Gnarly Wine was spectacular, which significantly delayed our departure because of the need to have a draft: amber and brown with gold highlights; nose is full of hot alcohol and flowers with rye and dark cherry over a heavy malt; sweetness on the tongue, dark fruits galore that blends perfectly with a spiciness from rye or hop, not sure which. Big wonderful beer that I would love to drink when it was 50 degrees cooler outside, but hard to complain when it's rare to find any barleywine on our summer travels.
|Dave and Meredith's full set of regular and seasonal samplers|
We had a fantastic stop at Lagunitas. Fun tour with a range of great beers and some new beer friends that made it feel like a local, all in spite of the inland heat wave. Travel expectations really can frame and alter expectations, and today, nlike the Statue of Liberty, it worked in my favor. Tony Magee was at the Four Firkins last week in Minnesota, however, sadly, I wasn't able to get to the event to add to this post. Nevertheless, this visit highlights why I enjoy visiting breweries: nothing like drinking the history and passion of beer on site to learn the full story.