First Look review: Touring and tasting at the new Lagunitas Brewery
1843 S. Washtenaw Ave.
By Scott Hartge
In late August I was able to take a free tour of the new Lagunitas Brewery in Chicago. The brewery cleverly plays the song “Pure Imagination” from the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory at the entrance. I got a kick out of that, especially while laser lights bounced around the dark tunnel leading to the brewery and tap room. After entering the actual brewery, however, the song choice made a whole lot more sense.
Observations and tastings: The warehouse that is home to the brewery is a massive 300,000 square feet. They start you in a sectioned-off area that looks like a college kid’s heaven. The enormous room has a bar, worn couches, pinball, foosball and adult-sized Jenga. On top of all that, they hand out free samples of their many different types of craft beer. My personal favorites were the year-round classic, Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’, and their winter seasonal beer, Lagunitas Sucks. Both brews have a unique taste and are quite enjoyable. Once folks have sampled some beer and are a bit livelier, a tour guide gathers everyone around to tell a quick and entertaining history of Lagunitas.
The tour: The tour itself is short and sweet. They take you through the brewery — or as they like to call it, “the jungle” — on a path that overlooks all the machines. The size of the operation is jaw-dropping, and they currently use only a fraction of the space. The tour really provides an interesting look at what Lagunitas is like behind the scenes and is definitely time well-spent. And the beer is pretty darn good too.
Fun facts: Lagunitas has been in business for 21 years and was originally launched in northern California. … Additional expansion is coming this fall that will make Lagunitas Chicago the largest single craft-brewing facility in the United States. … You can fit six football fields inside the Chicago building.
Giving back: The brewery’s elevated, glass-enclosed tap room is where they serve the flavorful beers and hold concerts. Every Monday and Tuesday, though, the tap room is closed to the public and reserved exclusively for non-for profit organizations. “How successful are you if you aren’t successful enough to help?” one tour guide happily stated.