NEWSFLASH/ Flashback: Stone, Lagunitas, and Multinational Deals

by SCCBB Blogger

Entrance to the Lagunitas TapRoom and Beer Sanctuary, September 2010

This week we were planning to run a Flashback post from our days as the Ventura Craft Beer Blogger. Our subject was going to be Lagunitas Brewing in Petaluma, California. Then, BeachRock Bill, our SCCBB San Diego Blogger, texted us a newsflash from Justin Kendall and Jessica Infante at Brewbound: “Stone Brewing to be sold to Sapporo Holdings.”

Our first impulse was to say, “Wow. Lagunitas went Dutch [they were bought by Heinekin in 2015] and now Stone’s going Japanese.” But we reject that nationalist way of viewing the world, or at least the world of beer. It’s not about Japan or the Netherlands. It’s about craft, tradition, and variety. Who doesn’t love a Belgian-style farmhouse ale in the heat of summer, no matter where it was brewed?

No, it’s about the threat of homogenization of choice that multinational management represents. So often, your previously local, community-based brewery–which used to experiment occasionally with out-of-the-box creations–now gets limited to the three or four brews that sell best and have the highest name recognition.

Wilco Tango Foxtrot?

When’s the last time you saw Lagunitas’ Hop Stoopid, Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale, or Censored (Kronik) copper ale either on tap or shelves? Or how about good ole Wilco Tango Foxtrot? We took this photo in 2010 at the First Annual Salute! Beer Festival in Ventura. Now, only “Censored” can be found on Lagunitas’ website, under “Gone But Not Forgotten.”

Quick! What three Lagunitas beers can you think of off the top of your head?

I can only think of two.

Today, at the top of the “Unlimited Release” page on the Lagunitas website (the featured image at the top of this page), are three hard teas. Yuzu Lemon is 100 calories, 0 grams of sugar, and gluten-free.

But I still like beer.

We have a reluctant, potential SCCBB contributor in San Diego, known as “The Mad Scientist,” who brews beer with tea. He told us that he was “inspired by Stone’s limited release ‘Japanese Green Tea IPA’ which was a 2011 fan favorite that was voted back into a limited run last month [i.e., March 2022]. I really enjoyed how the green tea helped to mellow out the throaty assault of bitterness you find in most higher ABV IPAs and have to say, the green tea element made a 10.1% beer go down as smoothly as any 5%.”

Given today’s news that Stone is being bought by Sapporo, was that Japanese green tea brew a harbinger of things to come? “Only the Shadow knows,” as they used to say on the radio.

Crow’s News View of the Stone World Bistro and Gardens, June 2010

Bonus Material

On the left, standing: Jeremy Marshall, Lagunitas’ head brewer (and Imperial Storm Trooper, according to the business card he gave us). On the right, seated: Mark Hughes, whose business card identified him as “cask conditioning alchemist.”

The SCCBB took this photo of Lagunitas head brewer Jeremy Marshall on a visit in 2010 to Lagunitas in Petaluma with Sir Ted of Sonoma. Jeremy got his degree from UC Davis and admitted to brewing “weed beer.” “Hasn’t everybody?” he asked.

We used to love the 60-second YouTube videos of Jeremy pouring a particular brew and describing its character. We are heartened that he still does that (this video made me re-think my poo-pooing of Disorderly Tea above). 

With Heineken’s takeover of Lagunitas, it seems appropriate that Forbes magazine interviewed him in 2019. For those interested in knowing more about Jeremy–and that definitely includes the SCCBB–it’s a fascinating read, and a great history not only of craft beer, but also the invasion of the corporations. Jeremy is brutally honest and extremely articulate. His job now is not only to “educate Heineken” but to be the face of Lagunitas. What he says at the end about the culture at a craft brewery is Truth.

Craft brewers get into this because we’re gathered by our passions. I have extreme passion for hops, for craft beer, for homebrewing, for cannabis, for extraction. All these things that live in the greater brewing universe.

So, maybe corporate takeovers CAN work, with the right chemistry and attitudes.

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