Lagunitas Is Closing Its Massive Chicago Brewery

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Lagunitas Is Closing Its Massive Chicago Brewery

In a significant blow to the Chicago and Illinois craft beer industries, Heineken’s Lagunitas Brewing Co. unexpectedly announced on Thursday that it would be shuttering the massive Chicago production brewery it first opened in 2014, by necessity involving a large round of layoffs. Only a small handful of employees will be retained via an adjacent warehouse that will continue operating, while some (presumably small) number of workers may have an opportunity to join the company’s teams by relocating to California. Indeed, that is where all Lagunitas beer will now be made once again, returning to 100% production at the original Petaluma, CA brewery. The final day in operation for the Chicago location will be Aug. 1, 2024, but the taproom is already closed, seemingly without so much as a going-away party.

The brewery, located in the southwestern Chicago neighborhood of Douglass Park, always stood out as something of an oddity in the Chicago beer community on multiple levels. There was the choice of location, far away from any “touristy” areas or associated commerce, which potentially limited the number of visitors. But mostly, Lagunitas Chicago stood out for its absolutely massive scope and size of the place, seemingly envisioned as a titanic production facility that would supply the entire Midwest and East Coast with beer from one of the country’s biggest craft beer names, which presumably was expected to just keep growing. When the brewery opened in 2014, they cited maximum production limits of more than a MILLION barrels of beer per year in this facility, with dual 250 barrel brewhouses. It was a level of production that the facility would never come anywhere close to achieving, as the slowdown in the American craft beer industry’s growth began not long afterward.

At the same time, though, the Chicago facility offered a particular type of experience that no other brewery in the area could truly match, particularly in the way that taproom visitors were free to walk around on catwalks above the production areas, seeing beer through every stage of its production with a glass in hand. As you can see in the photo below, this was quite a view of “big craft” beer in action, which not even the other biggest names in Chicago such as Revolution or Goose Island were able to evoke.

But with that said, the Lagunitas facility also felt like one that never truly had a chance to get its feet back under it after the COVID pandemic in particular, which makes it seem unfair to even say it was open for a decade. In reality, Lagunitas Chicago closed early in the pandemic in 2020 and then didn’t reopen its taproom to the public for roughly three years, finally coming back online in the spring of 2023. By that point, one wonders if the local community had more or less moved on from the novelty of having such a big name as Lagunitas in town. Certainly, it scuttled any number of plans that were originally suggested for the site, such as a live music amphitheater or a rooftop beer garden.

Lagunitas was founded by homebrewer and noted cannabis aficionado (and Chicago native) Tony Magee in 1993, becoming one of the most influential entrants in the West Coast-based ascendency of American hops in particular. Known for their relatively balanced and ubiquitous IPA, as well as the constant references to weed culture, Lagunitas seemed to battle it out over the years with the likes of SweetWater and Oskar Blues for the title of “most weed-themed brewery.” The arrival of the brand in Chicago certainly felt fitting at the time, as in the early-to-mid 2010s the craft beer segment was growing hand over fist and many of the larger western breweries were eyeing Midwest or East Coast headquarters. Alas, these openings almost universally went poorly in the years that followed, contributing to the downfall of brands such as Green Flash.

Lagunitas, meanwhile, passed partially out of Magee’s hands when he sold half the company to Heineken in 2015, and then the other half of the business in 2017, when he presumably figured that the time when he would have been criticized for such an action had sufficiently passed. The sales made the founder extremely wealthy, though we have to wonder how he’s now feeling about the news that Lagunitas will be exiting Chicago after a tumultuous decade operating in his hometown. Moreover: How much has overall Lagunitas production declined in recent years, if it can now be entirely handled by the Petaluma facility that needed a Midwest expansion in the first place?

Here’s the official announcement, just now posted on the company’s Chicago taproom Facebook page.

Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.

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