Lagunitas beer founder wanted his brew to come home
BY BECKY SCHLIKERMAN Staff Reporter June 19, 2014 7:06PM
PETALUMA, CA - FEBRUARY 21: Bottles of Lagunitas Brewing Company beers are displayed at Lagunitas Brewing Company on February 21, 2014 in Petaluma, California. Sonoma County breweries Lagunitas Brewing Company and Bear Republic rely on water from the Russian River and are worried that the extremely low water levels in the 110-mile waterway will force them to seek water from other sources, including well water, which could have an impact on the taste of their beers. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 474410461
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Updated: June 20, 2014 7:38PM
Tony Magee wanted the labels of his famed Lagunitas IPA to one day say “brewed and bottled in Chicago.”
So more than two years ago while driving to work, when he decided to open a second brewery, he knew he’d be coming home.
“From the very beginning we have been a Chicago brewery in northern California,” Magee, an Arlington Heights native, told the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board Thursday.
He found the perfect location — part of a West Side warehouse complex that once housed the Ryerson steel plant.
And then he met with city officials.
At City Hall, officials there started to talk about financial incentives that would be available.
“I was like, I don’t want any of it,” Magee said.
Instead, he asked for help making sure the process to open the brewery was fast and efficient.
“I need an expedited process because I have to add this capacity because the brewery in California is growing so fast,” Magee said he told the officials.
He said he didn’t want taxpayers’ dollars.
“You start realizing you make the world around you by the decisions you make as you move through it and if I don’t feel like the government should be looted [or] whored out for businesses ... we don’t need it ... so why ask for it?” Magee said. “I’d rather they have more midnight basketball and fill potholes. Don’t give it to me.”
Now just over two years later, the ribbon to the Chicago brewery has been cut.
Deputy Mayor Steve Koch said the city didn’t cut any corners, but didn’t want to be a barrier to a new 300,000-square-foot business that employs more than 125 people.
“If somebody wants to come and make that kind of investment in Chicago, we are going to do our best to be ahead of them,” Koch said. “We don’t want the city to be an obstacle.”
And why did Magee choose Chicago?
“It’s Chi-f******-cago,” said the plain-spoken, laid-back musician, who makes no secret of his affinity for smoking weed.
But there’s also a practical side to having a brewery here.
Chicago is a shipping hub; in California, the company was spending about $150,000 a month on freight costs.
That kind of money is better spent on a facility, Magee said,
And there’s the cachet of Chicago, as opposed to a neighboring suburb.
“If I’m going to sell beer from this brewery in Sweden and the UK as we do right now ... they all know where Chicago is,” he said. “I don’t think they know where Bedford Park is.”
Magee, who has lived in California since 1987, said doing business in Chicago has been slightly different.
One difference is the unions. His brewery here is represented by the Teamsters.
He wanted just one union representing everyone in the brewery — not a host of groups representing different type of workers. He was worried about splintering employees in his company.
That’s what it’s like in older breweries, Magee said.
“They say it just grinds the life out of work,” he said former employees of those plants said.
As for the beer, Magee said making it “is magic.”