Craft Brewer Lagunitas Says Heineken Deal Marks the End of Its ‘Startup’ Phase

Founder sees move as a chance at expansion, not selling out

Lagunitas founder Tony Magee knows how it sounds when you hear a craft brewer is selling a 50 percent stake to a global powerhouse like Heineken. But he insists this isn't a case of selling out to The Man.

As news broke today of Lagunitas Brewing's partnership with Heineken, Magee personally took his case to the craft brewer's fans.  

On Tumblr, he wrote about how craft beer's huge growth in California (where Lagunitas briefly surpassed its mainstream competitors this past February to have the No. 1 beer package sold in the Bay Area) "is a forecast for the rest of the country and even the rest of the world."

On the Beer Advocate forums, he spoke frankly and at length about the challenges facing the beer industry and the investment options available to a brewery like his.

"Amid all of this uncertainty, and being 55 years old going on 80, I had to think long and hard about how to steer our ship into these new waters," Magee wrote on Beer Advocate. "What we have created in this relationship is a staircase to the sky for all of our people and for our brand as well as for the home-grown vibe of American craft brewing."

While most headlines have focused on Heineken's 50 percent stake in Lagunitas, Magee (who will retain his leadership role) says the deal isn't about the Dutch brewer buying up part of Lagunitas so much as it is about Lagunitas winning access to global distribution from a partner the company feels it can trust.

"Just so's you know," he wrote on Beer Advocate, "I didn't discuss the possibility of this sort of relationship with either [Anheuser-Busch InBev] or [Miller Coors]. Those would have been dead on arrival anyway because they don't get it. For them, the news of the future hasn't yet arrived. We reached out to Heineken ourselves, and at that point they did not see themselves becoming involved with any U.S. craft brewer. However, after our first conversation and with every subsequent one they began to see what a very exciting thing it would be to bring the news of U.S. craft brewing to communities around the world."

The deal won't mark the end of Lagunitas or its commitment to quality, he said. Instead, it marks the end of what could be described as the 23-year-old company's startup phase, Magee believes.

"It took a lot of talking, but the thing we have found is not an end point in any way except for the idea that it is the end of our startup period," he wrote on Beer Advocate. "Time will tell for certain, but I'm totally willing to step out and say that in many ways this is historic. There are many great international brewers, but there is only one Heineken."