In honor of my sister’s birthday this past week, and our collective appreciation for craft beer, we visited the Lagunitas Brewing Company’s Chicago location. I’ve been on brewery tours as well as visited some fantastic brewpubs before (you’ll always have a special place in my heart, Victory), but this was a wholly different experience.
The one thing that shined through from every staff member was an emphasis placed on enjoyment. You got an immediate sense that not only did all of these people love where they work, but they wanted you to love it too.
We arrived about 15 minutes before they opened and sat in the entry way, lit with a Lagunitas emblem on the floor. We watched employees roll in, some with dogs, some walking their bikes through the lobby- all with giant smiles. If they were trying to indoctrinate us with happiness… it was working.
Entering the taproom involved walking down a long, black light and neon lit hallway to the tune of Willy Wonka’s “Pure Imagination.” It was impossible not to smirk, making the football-field-length trek seem like it went by too fast. Upon arriving to the taproom level, the entire left wall was glass looking down on what appeared to be an enormous den garnished with games, couches, tables, and a few taps in the middle. It was as though some greater being reached into my head and plucked out what I had imagined to be the perfect bar setup.
Since we were early for the tasting tour, we decided to sit at the bar and have a beer. Which turned into two. Then they told us we can take them on the tour with us… well, another please. The quality of the beer was superb and we were lucky enough to get the bottom of the Citrusinensis Pal Ale keg, which was more…deliberate tasting - As in, there is a deliberate amount of alcohol and flavor swirling around in this glass, so much so that there was a significant color difference to the next pour. It was kind of delicious. Needless to say, we were feeling great.
Corralling in the hallway, we were met by a bearded and energetic man who was glad that most of us had beers, for the more we had, the more the tour and he would be entertaining. Or so he said. Thinking we will be veering left to the where the brewery resides, our guide informed us that here at Lagunitas, beer is best experienced socially. With that in mind, the first hour of the tour will be spent at a happy hour getting to know the other 40-50 people visiting the brewery. There we would try samples, play some games, and just relax.
Wait… so we’re going to spend an hour drinking in that giant lounge we saw coming in? Yes, please.
As we enjoyed the open space and mingled, tour guides would walk the room with sample trays of beer (I particularly enjoyed the Little Sumpin’ Extra). Before we knew it, tour time was upon us. I really could’ve spent another couple of hours in such a great and inviting space.
The large mass of people was corralled into two groups and taken out separately. The tour itself walked us around the brewery floor, was conversational and very relaxed. Often when you take a tour, its mainly well-rehearsed factoids regurgitated at specific touch points. This was more of an interactive conversation that engaged our group about the Chicago operation, their plans for the future, and the history of Lagunitas Brewing.
The tour itself was under 30 minutes and in a move that would make Disney proud, ended just outside the gift shop. You’re darn right we got souvenirs. We were so steeped in the Petaluma born culture at that point that even stocking up on bumper stickers was making sense. I don’t mean that as an indictment or to imply trickery, we were just having such good time that physical mementos seemed more necessary than normal.
The tour was over and it was almost time to go. Fighting the inevitable breach back into sunlight and since it was still early in the day, we decided to hit the taproom again and try everything else. Thank goodness for samplers and designated drivers (thanks, Pop).
I feel as though this is going to become a regular visit every time I’m in Chicago - Portilo’s, Lou Malnati’s, and Lagunitas. Yeah… that sounds about right.