Santa Claus might just be a craft beer aficionado. That could explain the arrival last week of four shiny new stainless steel tanks at Lagunitas Chicago TapRoom.
The massive Pilsen brewery at 1843 South Washtenaw welcomed the German-made tanks with open arms. It’s part of the brewery’s master plan to ramp up production and take advantage of the growing popularity of craft beer.
Current production capacity for Lagunitas Chicago is about 500,000 barrels per year. The goal is to reach the 1.5 million barrel level, which should occur soon after still more tanks arrive. It will also put Lagunitas Chicago in elite company––it’s already the fifth-largest craft brewery in the U.S. and the biggest in Chicago.
It’s impressive growth considering Lagunitas Chicago moved into the 300,000 square foot former Ryerson steel plant about one year ago.
“This all happened in 13 months,” said Lagunitas staffer Jake Durham. “There was nothing in here. We had beer coming out of tanks eleven months after we came into an empty building.”
Last week, I toured the facility from a catwalk near the top of the 50-foot high brewhouse and the 750-barrel fermenters. The cavernous building had a few Hollywood moments before Lagunitas moved in, Durham said.
“The building is owned by Cinespace,” he said. “Chicago Fire and Chicago PD filmed here. So did Optimus Prime. And the producers of The Dark Knight did prop work for the scene where the Joker lights all the money on fire.”
Alas, the building had limited use for filmmaking because of its close proximity to rail tracks. The frequent noise of trains and vibration make for unhappy sound engineers. The location and size were perfect for a brewery, though. Enter Lagunitas founder (and Rogers Park native) Tony Magee. He was confident enough in Lagunitas’ future and its growth that he took out a 100-year lease on the building.
Not bad for a fledgling brewer that began in Magee’s Petaluma, California, kitchen 10 years ago with a five-gallon home brew kit. Not long after, Magee opened his first Lagunitas brewery in Petaluma. Like the Chicago brewery, the Petaluma facility pumps out 500,000 barrels a year.
Next up for Lagunitas Chicago is a 1,300-seat amphitheater featuring live music. Free tours are available daily if you’re interested in checking out the brewery.