As you have probably read in Aly’s post, we recently spent 24 Hours in Chicago where we ate a ton of good food, saw Julien Baker, and visited a few breweries while there. I had decided early on that I would attempt to write a brief review of each brewery but also was cognizant that, by taking extensive notes on each beer I drank in the traditional format of the brew reviews featured on this blog, I wouldn’t be truly experiencing all of what the brewery had to offer. So rather than provide reviews of each brew I tried while in the windy city’s breweries, I’ve utilized a less conventional method of providing a more general summary of the overall experience at each brewery. Whenever possible, I have provided my three favorite beers and, in some cases, you should be able to find them at your local liquor stores.
Lagunitas Brewing Company
Let me get this out of the way: Lagunitas may be my new favorite brewery. While I have always been impressed with their vast selection of different beer styles and have come to expect that everything that I have purchased by them has lived up to or exceeded my expectations, it was this trip to their brewery that took me from causal fan to super fan. The brewery is located on the southeast side of Chicago and is easily accessible should you be coming in from the east of the city. After a rather intense last 45 minutes of our trek that included buckets of rain, a nosebleed, a near accident, a semi-truck driver not knowing how to back up his vehicle, and some rather questionable directions given to us by our GPS, Aly and I arrived at Lagunitas and were greeted by a sign that read “It doesn’t matter how you got here, YOU MADE IT!”. I could feel my excitement building.
After getting out of the car and snapping a few pictures, Aly and I stood in the parking lot questioning what we should expect. From the outside, the brewery looks like a massive, nondescript factory but with an entry way that was painted purple and red with a small neon marquee advertising their taproom. I explained to Aly that I had always heard that the entryway to the brewery was the most amazing part of the experience and that a few friends could only describe it as being “unreal”. They said that I should be prepared for blacklight paint and blacklights and, for some reason, my mind’s eye created this image of a dark, dank cellar that is was all too reminiscent of the many dive bars that struggle to find a sense of style. That couldn’t have been further from the truth.
We walked in and immediately were taken aback by the surreal hallway. We were stopped by a security officer and an employee at a desk in the entryway, asked if this was our first time visiting the brewery, and had our IDs checked. They both seemed incredibly excited that this was our first time at the brewery and told us to make sure we had fun and I could tell they meant it. We walked down the surreal hallway, met the artist painting the murals who explained that the first room was supposed to be underwater themed and the second one was going to be space themed when finished, and kept stopping to peer into the brewery operation that was viewable through a few windows that looked onto the facility’s bottling line and brewery.
What made the entire experience so incredibly memorable was that the Willy Wonka song “Pure Imagination” was played on an endless loop. Lyrics such as “If you wan’t to view paradise, simply look around and view” and “what we’ll see will defy explanation” made the entire experience feel so surreal. If you visit the brewery, I can promise that you will feel like a kid in a candy store and you will feel your excitement well up inside of you like you haven’t ever experienced at any of the other breweries you have visited. At the end of the hallway, we stood and faced a massive portrait which may have been the woman from their Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ labels. We stood in awe and gazed back at the 10′ x 10′ portrait and continued on to the rest of the brewery.
We didn’t know this at the time but the brewery staff gives tasting tours of the brewery a few times during the week. Amazingly, they take you to different parts of the brewery that have small sitting rooms comprised of mismatched furniture and other oddities, give you a small sample of every beer they make, give you an informative tour while allowing you to drink their beer, and, best of all, I’m pretty sure that this is free. I could be wrong but I didn’t really see a place where they were taking money for the tour. So did we do the tasting tour? Sadly, there was one commencing while we were there but, unfortunately, we arrived about ten minutes too late and decided we would save that for a future visit.
We continued upstairs by following signs for the taproom. Along the way, we were stopped by several employees who took the time to welcome us and ask if we were doing okay. This was kind of unusual for me since I’ve visited several breweries where you almost never see any employees outside of the servers or bartenders. These people seemed to love their jobs and couldn’t be happier that there were patrons ready and eager to try their beer and tour their facility.
We made a brief pitstop in the general store where they offered beer, dog collars, books, stickers, clothing, and other apparel. While browsing for a shirt to purchase, one of the employees explained that, every Friday, the owner buys the entire brewery lunch and apologized for the cashier disappearing into the backroom while we were browsing. Lagunitas, if you are hiring, I’m your man. Seriously, how many places can say that the owners buy their employees lunch each week?
The taproom at Lagunitas is amazing. It is three flights up and enclosed in an all glass enclosed space that overlooks the entire brewery. Any place you look, you can look down on some operation of the brewery while you enjoy your food and brews. For spillover on busy periods of the day, there is a large seating area outside of the restaurant and bar where patrons can enjoy a few beers while they wait for a seat. They even had a magician performing beer related magic tricks for those that were waiting on a seat.
Because I’m such a fan of their beer, there were very few offerings at the taproom that I haven’t tried. This is usually something that really disappoints me when I visit breweries. However, there were still four offerings that I haven’t tried so Aly and I shared a flight while talking with the server. Before I review what I had, it is worth mentioning that I asked our server if they were going to be bringing back one of my favorite offerings from their “One Hitter” series in 2015. He explained that, just the day before, he attended a meeting at 8am where they discussed what their plan for the next year looked like. He said they were drinking beer and eating donuts first thing in the morning and that he doesn’t miss any those meetings even though he doesn’t like to be up early because they usually discuss their brewing schedule for the upcoming year. Thankfully, the beer in question, which I can’t disclose due to a vow of secrecy, is going to be a regular seasonal for the 2016 season. On top of this, they plan on bottling some of their previously brewery specific sours for mass market consumption this year. Man. I seriously cannot wait.
So what did I drink? I tried to take it easy since it was so early in the day and we still had about a half hour drive to our hotel. Regardless, the beers we shared were their Pils, Censored, Imperial Stout, and a brewery exclusive sour that was described as being a mixture of their Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Extra and their IPA that was then soured using brettanomyces. All four beers were incredibly but that sour quickly became something that I needed more than just the small pour provided in the flight. It had strong citrus notes that made the beer extra juicy and the brett tartness really complemented the citrus and balanced out the bitter qualities of the pale ales used in this creation. Rank ordered, I would offer that it went Sour, Stout, Censored, and Pils but all of the brews were great.
Lagunitas also offers a ton of great food options in which a lot of the offerings feature the spent grains produced from the brewery. Rather than try one of their delicious looking pizzas or their tasty looking sandwiches, we decided to share a pretzel and live vicariously through all of the other patrons that surrounded us that were chowing down on their food.
And there you have it. Lagunitas is a place where dreams are made and is absolutely essential stopping point for any beer drinker who is making the trek to Chicago. Aly and I area already planning our next trip back and making sure that we have more room in our bellies to try some of the brewery’s tasty food options and to make sure we get there in time to do a tasting tour so we can see more of how one of our favorite breweries makes their beer.
Check back next week where I will review our experience at Revolution Brewing.