Tales From Lagunitas

Josh Augustine, July 26, 2013

There are a number of reasons that you should take the Lagunitas brewery tour should you find yourself in or near Petaluma, California. The following story that was told on the tour that I took recently is just one of those reasons:

In the early days of Lagunitas, they were located, believe it or not, in the small town of Lagunitas. This was the sort of town that was small enough that you might find a few functional businesses combined into one (like a grocery store/hotel, for example). It was this sort of building that rented some unused space to brewmaster Tony Magee in Lagunitas's early days. In this back room type of area, he crafted beers that he sold to the few restaurants in town. All was well. The townsfolk had delicious beer, and a fine brewery was taking the first steps toward success. Time went on, beers were brewed, and waste water from the brewing process was poured down the drain. Waste water containing live yeast, that is. Poured down a drain that was assumed to lead to a sewer system as most drains do. This drain, however, unbeknownst to the brewer, led to a septic tank. A septic tank which naturally contained plenty of other...er... waste items. Waste cast aside by the digestive tracts of the fine citizens of Lagunitas. This particular brand of waste is chock full of fermentable sugars, which if you’re reading BeerGraphs, you know that the yeast being sent down to the septic tank were pretty excited to be there. Time went on and more and more yeast went down the drain, on their way to the yeast version of a lifetime of thanksgiving dinners.

Eventually, something strange happened. All over town, people noticed bubbles coming up from their drains. Strange foamy bubbles, not entirely unlike those which rest comfortably atop a glass of beer. Upon investigation it was discovered that the yeast had been in that septic tank making what was quite literally shit beer, and all that carbon dioxide that came along with it had to go somewhere. And from the bowels of the septic tank, there was only one direction to go.

The tour guide, at this point, didn’t go into much detail as to what effect this had on the town or what sort of cleanup might have been involved. But the most obvious effect is that they needed a new place to brew beer. The rest, as they say, is history. Lagunitas moved on to a bigger, better location in Petaluma where sewers are a thing that exists, and continued their path to becoming the evil masterminds we know and love today.

Other reasons to take the tour include: more stories full of hijinx and delicious beer samples, including a bottle straight off the bottling line. In my case, they happened to be bottling and packaging their IPA while we were touring, so that is the beer of which we all enjoyed a fresh bottle.

Lagunitas IPA
straight from a bottle that was plucked from the bottling line

Appearance: 2.5. Appearance wasn't really a factor here, as the beer was still in the bottle, so we'll just give it rating right in the middle of the scale. They do have that sweet looking dog on the label after all.

Smell: 4.8. Loads of great hop aroma washed over me! My clothes smelled like hops for hours! Okay, most of it was probably coming from, you know, the entire brewery, rather than from my one little bottle, but let's give them the benefit of the doubt.

Taste: 4.5. Okay, this time the fresh hops were really really incredibly noticable, and it was definitely the beer. I noticed a pretty surprising difference in how fresh the hops tasted both at Lagunitas and when I visited Green Flash vs. the normal circumstance  the beer sits on a truck for a couple days and then in a store for a few more days before I get to it. (I'm not surprised that there WAS a difference, but was surprised how much difference there was.)

Mouthfeel: 3.9. It was almost a little creamy and a little chewy, and not terribly crisp. I'm surmising that this was largely due to, again, drinking it straight from the bottle.

Overall: 4.1. The beer was good, very good, which should surprise nobody. Naturally, it would likely have been better had it been poured into a glass. That said, watching the tour guide grab a few handfuls of bottles straight off the line, pop 'em open, and hand 'em out to the tourists sure was fun. And lets face the facts here, if I'm drinking good beer, I'm not going to complain about what I'm drinking it from.