Sellout or level-headed pragmatist?
Reaction to Lagunitas Brewing Co. founder Tony Magee’s decision to form a partnership with Heineken International divided along distinct lines Tuesday in the fiercely protective craft beer community.
Some praised Magee for finding a creative route to take craft beer to a wider audience while remaining true to his philosophy of pairing quality beer with irreverence. Others accused him of betraying the independent ideals that made craft brews different than Bud, Miller and Coors.
“Please don’t let this deal with devil ruin my #Lagunitas!” tweeted Gabriel Froymovich, founder of Healdsburg-based VFA Consulting.
Several suggested there was very little difference between the Heineken deal and one that sparked an infamous Twitter rant by last year by Magee, who criticized the 10 Barrel Brewing Co. sale to craft-beer bugaboo Anheuser-Busch InBev.
“Well it’s a good thing I’m off beer right now because this is a dark dark day for craft brew,” tweeted Joanna Robinson, a contributor to Vanity Fair.
But Sam Laird of Mashable was more positive: “Lagunitas founder Tony Magee gonna get lots of crap from certain folks, and yes there’s something lost now, but hey good for him. Earned it.”
Nolo Guzman in Ecuador tweeted: “Congrats in this big step to the world I hope some day I can get some Lagunitas here in Ecuador, keep making great beer !!!”
In an interview, Magee stressed that the Heineken deal was all about spreading the gospel of West Coast craft beer, not the cash.
“I would be very upset if people led to assumptions that this is a moment of cashing out or selling out; this thing that people had loved was somehow sold to the highest bidder,” he said. “I want to be doing something exciting now with my company. I’m 55 now, middle-aged if I expect to live to be 110, which I don’t. What thrills me? The idea of taking this name Lagunitas, the flavors of the IPA and our other beers, and presenting them to other communities around the world. That’s exciting.”
Richard G. Norgrove, brewmaster and a partner at Bear Republic Brewing Co. in Cloverdale, said criticism that Magee was “selling out” did not resonate with him.
“I think people are trying to throw fuel on the fire,” said Norgrove, who runs the second-largest brewery in Sonoma County, producing about 85,000 barrels this year, or about a tenth of the size of Lagunitas. “It just kind of shows how much people are looking at us.”
“He’s a hell of lot bigger risk-taker than I am,” Norgrove said. “That’s a huge deal. I can’t even fathom it. ... It sounds wonderful trying to bring craft beer to masses.”
On a Tumblr post, Magee noted that growth in the craft market forced him to reevaluate his assumptions about the best way to ensure Lagunitas would thrive into the future.
“Some might say I’ve changed my mind. Well, I have. But the world around us has changed too and if learning leads to new insight, that’s the best kind of change imaginable. The hard part is discovering truly positive change within the possible avenues forward.”
Embedded in this article is a sampling of comments from Twitter.