I was offered a copy of “So you want to start a brewery? The Lagunitas story” by Chicago Press Review, and since I’m a fan of Lagunitas beer I accepted, having done no research whatsoever, I assumed (based on the title) it was another “how to” book on the brewing industry, which it is absolutely not.
The Forward, which is actually called a “Fauxword” was my first indication that this wasn’t just another “how to” book, these first few pages could have been a scene from a grisly war movie and basically left me saying “WTF did I just get into, and what does this have to do with starting a brewery?”
The Introduction is your first meet and greet with Tony Magee, author of the book and Owner/Founder of Lagunitas Brewing Company, this is where it is made clear that the book in your hands is a memoir, not an autobiography, not a how to manual. Stories of the peaks and valleys, sometimes extreme valleys of Tony’s personal and professional life, because for Tony these two lives are one as stated in the Introduction: “I have long thought that others who see their life as separate from work (work time vs. personal time) end up with only half a career and, worse, only half a life. If we were still the hunter-gatherers (that we actually still are), the idea of “personal time” would be synonymous with starvation.”
It all starts in 1992 with Tony pulling his life back together after seemingly hitting rock bottom, this is also when he buys a homebrew kit. By 1993 he’s searching for commercial brewing equipment and Lagunitas is up and running.
The book follows the growing pains of a start up business that finds quick success, the constant push and pull of supply and demand, growth and relocation and the ever present need of healthy cash flow in a business. From building a brewery to building a brand and the pains and pleasures of having employees. This book is so far from a “how to” and closer to a “what not to do” because I doubt anyone other than Tony Magee could build a brewery as successful as Lagunitas by following in his footsteps, like walking a tightrope, I was nervous reading his stories and I already know it all worked out.
The books is a smart, funny, engaging read that follows the growth of Lagunitas, the highs and lows of craft beer in the early to mid nineties and how things have changed since. Tony Magee holds nothing back, once you get past that crazy “fauxword” you are in for one wild ride that is the story of Lagunitas Brewing Company.
Here’s the part where I knock the book a little bit, I found spelling errors, I wondered how in the world of the spell checker these things could slide into a printed book and then I read this line from Tony in chapter 7: “I am a miserable speller. So it happened that there was, and usually still is, a spelling error (or two) on just about every label.” So I can’t knock the book or the editor because I have a feeling it’s just Tony having a laugh, I’m ok with that. My only real complaint is in the layout, each chapter has a excerpt from an employee or friend of Tony talking about him, the brewery, a fun story and always their favorite Lagunitas beer, which is a great addition to the book but some of these excerpts fall in the middle of one of the stories, forcing you to stop to read them or read past and then double back, I would have preferred them at the end of each chapter.
I enjoyed “So you want to start a brewery” I think it’s a book anyone could read but homebrewers and others in the brewing industry will find it insightful, comical and educational.