Destination Azusa for a Great Craft Beer Experience

thumb_IMG_3430_1024I had the chance to visit Lagunitas Brewing Company’s recent “Sneaky Peek” party for industry retailers, distributors and partners to get an early look at the Azusa brewery compound that is scheduled to open in 2017.

Right now, the site of the future brewery at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains is mostly vast open spaces, expansive parking lots and three gigantic buildings. All three structures are currently just building shells, but it’s not hard to imagine what they’ll look like in a year. The site was perfect for a party, complete with music, tours and, of course, Lagunitas beer.

When it’s complete, the future Lagunitas facility will indeed be the largest craft beer brewery in the United States, with 250,000 square feet of space, including 178,000 for the three buildings, according to Lagunitas’ Director of Communications Karen Hamilton.thumb_IMG_3431_1024

It’s not just size that matters for Lagunitas, although that will be a huge part of the draw. The beer and the site’s amenities will make this a true destination – not just for craft beer fans but for just about everyone. This will be the kind of place that will bring in out-of-town visitors, all the while pumping up the economy with their additional spending in Azusa and surrounding cities. Lagunitas will need to add some 150 to 200 new employees in 2017, which will further boost its positive local and regional economic impact.

Building No. 1 is where the magic happens. It’s where the beer will be made and where the public will congregate. Included in that building will be a 5,000-square-foot taproom that looks down on the brewery operations. The Lagunitas swag shop will be next to the taproom. Catwalks will extend around the building interior so the public can wander freely (and safely) to observe the working brewery from high above. There also will be a rooftop seating area with an up-close panoramic view of the picturesque San Gabriel Mountains. Below, a 300-seat outdoor amphitheater will be constructed on the north side where beer lovers can enjoy live music.

AP941577041644Upon opening, Lagunitas will have an output of 420,000 barrels per year. Over time, the brewery will expand to a maximum capacity of 1.8 million barrels, says Hamilton. They’ll open with one 250-barrel brew house and will eventually expand to three 250-barrel brew houses.

The second building will handle all of the bottling, canning and kegging operations, and the third building will be entirely for cold storage before the beer is shipped out.

So why build a craft beer Taj Mahal in Azusa? Two primary reasons: location and the water. Our tour guide said that the Southwest United States is one of Lagunitas’ top sales areas, and it’s no secret that Southern California is already a hotbed for craft breweries and craft beer enthusiasts. The Lagunitas website says the Azusa plan will serve the Southern California market and most of the Southwest states, as well as Mexico.

Perhaps more important is the water, which come from the mountain streams in the adjacent San Gabriel Mountains. The brewery location is truly at the base of the mountains, right at the mouth of the water source. Lagunitas will be much less reliant on water imported from Northern California and the Colorado River. It’s no surprise that Miller Brewing Co. has been operating next door in Irwindale for decades, after previously making its beer in Azusa.AP929880744744-2

Lagunitas states its Northern California brewery in Petaluma is built out at about 750,000 barrels a year and will reach 85 percent of that capacity by the end of 2017, based on current growth rates. The Chicago plant still has room for additional output, but the company would rather not ship its beer all the way across the country to the west.

thumb_IMG_3438_1024Makes sense to me… So go ahead and add another name to the long list of great Southern California craft breweries.