One thing I noticed in coverage of Tuesday's event was a shortage of photos—even Josh Noel's thorough write-up for the Trib had only one. This seemed like a significant oversight, especially given that the tap room overlooks Lagunitas's gargantuan new Chicago brewery. I decided to address it.
My shitty old camera and I visited on Saturday, during a "friends and family" celebration. I talked to regional marketing director Karen Hamilton, sister of Lagunitas founder Tony Magee. She brought the first case of Lagunitas beer into Chicago ten years ago, shortly after joining the company, and now she's watched the first cases roll off the line here.
Hamilton told me a few things I didn't already know. First was that Lagunitas gives away so much beer in Chicago—mostly to nonprofits throwing fund-raisers—that donations total more than sales to its biggest proper customer. On Mondays and Tuesdays, when the tap room is closed, the brewery makes the space available to such groups free of charge. Lagunitas is the official beer of Team PAWS, a charity running team that benefits the PAWS Chicago animal shelter, and the brewery's employees can bring their dogs to work. (Dogs aren't allowed in the tap room "yet," says Hamilton.)
Second, and perhaps of more interest to beer nerds, was that the tap room's 32 draft lines will pour not just year-round Lagunitas beers but also tap-only oddities and one-offs shipped from the brewery's home base in Petaluma, California. (Eventually the Chicago facility will make those beers too.) If the current west-coast menu is any indication, we can expect a pomegranate pale ale and an unfiltered pils very soon. From here on out, the Chicago tap room will also get every Fusion beer—Lagunitas releases a new one almost every month, but so far we've only seen a few. (Fusion 16 won the session-ale trophy at last June's Mash Tun Fest.)
I didn't get to try more than a couple beers, because I'd lost the data card in my camera and had to take the train back to Edgewater to fetch my spare—a round trip of nearly three hours. My profound gadget-related stupidity also meant I didn't have time to join one of the brewery tours making the circuit of the catwalks that surround the tap room. But I did get some photos! I used a tripod instead of a flash, because I didn't want to annoy the folks trying to enjoy themselves. Given the dim light in the tap room itself, that often meant ridiculously long exposures—which is why most of the people look like extras in a Nine Inch Nails video.
Lagunitas Chicago is a little difficult to reach, at least if you don't know the neighborhood well. You don't have to cross a moat full of crocodiles, but it helps to know which streets go through and which get cut off by railroad tracks. The address is technically 1843 S. Washtenaw, but you can't turn into the parking lot from Washtenaw—and on foot, you have to find the one small gate in the fence that runs along the east side of the road.
From the train, the shortest walk is from the California stop on the Pink Line: head north on California to 18th, walk east to Washtenaw, and then head north again till you see the gate, just past the corner of the brewery building. The simplest route, especially if you're driving, is to take 16th Street west from Western and then turn south on what looks like Rockwell. Just past 17th Street, which is only a block long, you should see the brewery to the west. Look for the purple stretch of wall with the red doors.
Hours are 11 AM to 9 PM, Wednesday through Sunday. If the tap room is open, the kitchen is open. Music runs from 4:20 PM (har har) till 7:30 or so. General manager Brian Fadden, a veteran of Buddy Guy's Legends, handles the bookings, which tilt toward blues and Americana—upcoming acts on the tap room's dinky stage include guitarist John Primer, harmonica player Rick Sherry (also of the Sanctified Grumblers), and guitarist Joel Paterson (Sherry's old bandmate in Devil in a Woodpile).
With that in mind, what metal should I post? I'm thinking Kentucky, a 2012 album by brilliant Louisville band Panopticon. This confoundingly ambitious one-man project crossbreeds black metal with mountain music, especially bluegrass. The next Panopticon LP, Roads to the North, comes out later this summer.