When Hilliard’s Beer was recently purchased by Odin Brewing Company, the old Hilliard’s brewery and tasting room space in Ballard was put up for sale. Odin took some of the fermenters and the canning line, but they were selling the Ballard space as a turnkey operation with most of the brewing equipment included. This certainly seemed like a great opportunity for some hopeful new brewery to open up in a prime location. Or, how about a 20+ year-old brewery based out of Petaluma, CA? Say hello to the new space for the Lagunitas Taproom and Beer Sanctuary.
Tony Magee, the outspoken owner & founder of Lagunitas Brewing, announced last night via a short series of tweets that they would be taking over the Hilliard’s space. I had a chance to chat with Magee last night to confirm the news and get a few details.
In a nutshell, Lagunitas will be taking over the space with the existing brewing system and turning it into what he is calling for now the Lagunitas Taproom and Beer Sanctuary. They will make some tweaks to the system and expand the footprint a bit, but this will very much be a small operation meant to meld with the existing vibe of the neighborhood. Magee says, “Yeah, we’ll be buying everything that is there. Odin kind of worked with Hilliard’s to wind it down….the brewhouse and the rest of it is all still there. So, we’re just going to operate it like a small brewery and make one-offs right there and have it be a whole separate adventure…It’s a really cool thing that Hilliard’s had going on there. But, he didn’t have the money to see it all the way through. The old building needs sprinklers and stuff and so his attendance limits were held down and the city was putting pressure on him. So, we’re going to try to fix the place up. There’s a space in the front of that building that’s a really large space that Hilliard’s sublet to a machine shop that we are going to incorporate into it, so the whole of that old car dealership will be the site…Hilliard’s had a really nice outdoor seating area that we’ll expand, so we’ll have a beer garden aspect to it like in Petaluma.”
Magee says that becoming a part of the Seattle brewing scene and the Ballard neighborhood is an exciting prospect. “Well, I would love to be part of Seattle….and the nature of craft brewing is local. And, if you want to be local you have to walk the talk. There’s a whole scene there (In Ballard). To me, it’s a place where there is already a lot of energy and enthusiasm about beer…We just want to be able to be there and participate in that flow of folks. Hopefully, by putting our toe in the water we can add something to it. That’s the big job, right? Not simply to carve something off, but to add some energy.”
For those that aren’t familiar with Lagunitas, it was #6 on the Brewers Association list of the Top 50 U.S. Craft Brewing Companies for 2015. A little less than a year ago, Lagunitas formed a joint venture with Heineken, and Lagunitas continues to operate fully independently. Since then, they have announced regional partnerships with small breweries in South Carolina, Texas and California, as well as new event space openings in Portland & San Diego.
Magee explains that there isn’t exactly a set long-term strategy to what they are doing around the country. “The truth of the matter is, this and the other ventures that we are undertaking all over the country, all of these things have a question mark attached to them. They aren’t really statements, like we have a business plan and this is what we are going to achieve. It’s not quite like that. It’s more like, what would happen if we did this? It’s like just continually starting Lagunitas over and over again in a way. Walking in and seeing a 20-barrel kettle, it’s like having a second child.”
Some local beer drinkers will certainly be turned off by the brewery’s partnership with Heineken. Magee says, “Heineken actually has no role in any of this at all. That’s the god’s honest truth, it’s not spin. All these things we are doing on our own balance sheet. That’s why we are partnering with small breweries, because that is what we can afford for an investment…The thing I did learn from Heineiken, is that it is in the Dutch nature to collaborate and to partner. Everywhere in the world, beer is local. And, so Heineken was able to make themselves global by partnering with local players. So, my thinking is that the United States is not just one place, it’s a lot of different places. There’s this rising sense of regional identify returning and I think craft brewing has something to do with that. And, so my thought was that we can emulate that model here in the 50 states by making partnerships.”
To sum up his intentions for the new Seattle taproom, Magee says, “The real intention is to just have a place where people can come and party with us. Show them the things that we know and learn from them what they know….The trick is, the whole thing comes with a question mark.”
Magee notes that they have some work to do to get the space licensed and built out how they want it, so it will be “a few months” until it opens.