Starting with a two-tap takeover: Lagunitas in Scotland

Posted by on Sep 1, 2014 in American Beer | No Comments

The motto of Lagunitas Brewing Company is ‘beer speaks, people mumble’. Yet, if you ever get the chance to engage someone from Lagunitas in conversation, it quickly becomes apparent that, to their employees, this is more of a guideline than a slogan. Beholden to the love of their industry, and the place of Lagunitas within, they just can’t help effusing about what beer means to them, what they hope beer means to you, and where beer can take everyone if we all pull in the same direction. It’s infectious, it really is. And right at this moment, the Lagunitas top brass (as if they would ever refer to themselves as such) are in the UK for one reason only: launching Lagunitas’ beer in Scotland.

Over the next few days, the resin-bus will move north from Edinburgh (where it parked up on Saturday) to St Andrews (tonight, the 1st), then Aberdeen, and finally Glasgow. At each stop, the mason jars will glow white hot as the IPA and Lagunitas Sucks flow out. The beers are great, no question, but more than that it’s a chance to actually speak to the people who have travelled over from the States and are wending their way anti-clockwise around the country – some, like Ron Lindenbusch, for the first time. ‘Affable’ doesn’t do him any justice; Ron, whose business card bears the designation ‘beer weasel’, is the Director of Marketing at Lagunitas, and he certainly doesn’t mumble; if he did, for one thing, he’d have to stop beaming for a microsecond.

Maybe his countenance is partly due to the fact he’s never been to Scotland before – and, being a golfer I know he’s going to enjoy the trip to St Andrews today. But it’s also because he seems to get a genuine kick about chatting to other beer fans; wherever they are from. Looking every inch the Californian beer guy, Ron has been at Lagunitas since the very beginning. As such, clearly he appreciates this is a boom-time for the brewery, founded by Tony Magee in 1993. After expanding their Petaluma plant to the point where any further growth would create a problem for its hometown, they switched tack and opened in another city – Chicago.

That 250bbl/year brewery plant then reached capacity before anyone at Lagunitas ever thought possible, so another 250bbl plant has been ordered; Tony hasn’t firmed up which city it will be in, but I was told it looks like being in a third US location. Chicago has clearly been good to Lagunitas (Tony being a native of the city); they have now become the city’s largest brewer (surpassing the Ab-InBev-controlled Goose Island), in the process tripling the craft beer output of Illinois. That growth, when you digest those numbers, is truly astonishing – in 2013 Lagunitas broached the top five US craft breweries, by volume; having ranked number 17 three years earlier.

So, why Scotland? Well, they clearly see it as an emerging market for the direction they see as being the right one. Ron Lindenbusch is enthused about this, talking – beer in one hand, whisky in the other – about the way people can be attracted by an industry which works together, with the network of brewers and retailers all pulling in the same direction. Sales Manager Fraser Murray (a native of Haddington) sums it up even more neatly – “it’s all about putting good beer in people’s hands.” With that in mind, I was told Lagunitas are to employ a dedicated Scottish sales rep, to ‘pound the streets and do the legwork’.

Lagunitas are now emerging as a major player in the London craft market through this approach. Getting out there, working new accounts through individual introductions. Tony sums up his ethos in an interesting fashion, in this interview with local news station Chicago Tonight; “we’re not in the beer business in some ways; we’re in the tribe-building business. Engaging people, building with them and learning about them, and together you build a tribe around the notion of this particular product.” Within a year of his first bucket homebrew, Tony had opened his Petaluma brewery. You can’t help imagining this week’s two-tap takeovers will yield a fully-fledged Lagunitas tribe in Scotland within a similar timeframe…

The Lagunitas tour reaches the St Andrews Taproom tonight (Monday 1st), c.a.s.c. Aberdeen Tuesday 2nd and concluding at Glasgow’s Inn Deep on Wednesday 3rd. Check the Hanging Bat website for more information. (Full disclosure – the night in Newcastle, before Edinburgh, also had Lagunitas Lil’ Sumpin’ on draught, so it was a three-tap takeover).

For those attending, a little tip: if you can barely muster the strength to mumble the next morning, those mason jars also make great receptacles for Irn Bru…

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