Here's Why Craft Beer Pioneer Lagunitas Says It Sold Itself to Heineken
The great craft beer sellout just keeps on flowing.
On Thursday, Tony Magee, the founder of popular California-based Lagunitas Brewing, announced in a long letter on Tumblr that he is selling the entire company to Heineken. The Dutch brewing giant bought a 50% stake in Lagunitas in 2015, and now Heineken will have full ownership of the brand.
The acquisition comes in the wake of many other sales of independent craft beer labels to big beer conglomerates such as Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors. Earlier this week, for example, the North Carolina craft brewer Wicked Weed agreed to be acquired by Anheuser-Busch InBev.
Among beer enthusiasts, Lagunitas is considered to have some of the best IPAs on the market, and its original IPA might be one of the most important craft beers, period. According to the Brewers Association, Lagunitas recently ranked as the nation's sixth largest craft brewing company. But the brand hasn't technically qualified as a "craft beer" since the 2015 deal, according to the Brewers Association definition, because only independently owned companies are deserving of the label.
As the craft beer movement has spread and many brands have been acquired by larger brewing companies, controversy has swirled about the meaning of "craft beer," as well as what it truly means to "sell out." In his message announcing Heineken's purchase of Lagunitas, Magee wrote, "Some who don’t fully understand it all may say it is selling out."
Magee insists instead that Lagunitas is "buying in"—arguing that the move "will help us go farther more quickly than we could have on our own." He says the brand will continue to be run independently, but that Heineken ownership will help it expand faster, both within the U.S. and around the globe.
"They are a very big company and we are a small company," he argues, "but at the core we both want the same things: to make the best beer we can, be willing to have adventures, to treat the people we connect with along the way genuinely with an open heart, and to be ready for what comes next."
He also got seriously biblical in his choice of imagery:
The reaction among beer enthusiasts about Lagunitas's voluntary dive into the belly of a corporate whale was mixed. At a forum at Beer Advocate, one commenter described Magee's message this way: "It's standard 'we're not sell outs so please keeping buying our beer' bs.'"
Others were more forgiving, with one saying simply that it was "a very smart move on Lagunitas' part." Another commenter noted that it's high time for "beer lovers to finally realize it is a business and the businessmen who make the beer are not counter cultural heroes, they are businessmen who portray themselves as counter culture heroes because that narrative sells beer."