tony magee story

Tony Magee Tells His Story

tony magee returns

Tony Magee tells his story.

There is no new Brew Ha Ha show today, Thursday July 4, since our home station 95.5 Wine Country Radio is taking the Independence Day holiday. So here is a chance to listen again to our interview with Tony Magee, the now-retired founder of Lagunitas. He may be elusive and seem to have gained mythical status, but Herlinda Heras has just finished interviewing him for the Sonoma County Museum’s ON TAP exhibit, along with Don Barkley and Mark Carpenter, and today he tells his story for us. This interview was recorded live on the radio on April 18, 2024.

Tony Magee, the now-retired founder of Lagunitas, is back on Brew Ha Ha with Steve Jaxon and Herlinda Heras. The last time Tony Magee was on Brew Ha Ha was this episode in 2014. Today he and his wife have a ranch where they host retired horses and also some cattle.

Herlinda Heras has been working with the Museum of Sonoma County to organize On Tap, the exhibit about craft beer history that is opening this weekend. Tony sat for a video interview for the exhibition and he is pleased to be part of it. He started Lagunitas in 1993 and grew it into one of the largest breweries in the country. In 2017 Heineken acquired the company. Tony tells the interesting back story to the acquisition. Lagunitas was beginning to sell beer outside the US, which is not easy to do. He also had grown Lagunitas to a point where the US market was starting to feel saturated with new beer brands as the popularity of craft beer grew. He started to think about a longer term plan for the company, rather than endure infinite domestic competition. Heineken was (and is) the last family-owned global brewer.

tony magee returns

Click to visit the Museum of Sonoma County website.

Finding the Right Partner

All the other big companies are multinationals. Tony says Lagunitas never really discussed the acquisition with other companies because none of them had Heineken’s character. Hearing him tell the story, he sounds really pleased with how it all happened. He says he thought of the brewery as an art project, with an artist will eventually sell and once that happens, that’s it. He gives credit to Heineken for updating the structure of the business operation but for not changing the beer or the recipes and the brew master is still there.

This is the best time in the last thousand years to be a beer lover. -Tony Magee

Herlinda asks what the inspiration was for the brewery. For Tony, he was doing a completely different job. He was in commercial printing sales and he was a home brewer. His brother got him a home brew kit for Christmas of 1992, in January of ’93 he brewed it, and by December of 1993 the brewery was open. He recognized things in brewing that reminded him of music. As musician that helped him understand brewing.

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See our sponsor Victory House at Poppy Bank Epicenter online, for their latest viewing and menu options.

A lot of Lagunitas beer is IPA style and hop focused. His friend Grant Johnston who was a brewer at Marin Brewing would also homebrew. He was experimenting by adding his hops late in the boil, which boosted the flavors and didn’t let bitterness develop by boiling too long. This was how they created a hop-forward style that became the central thesis of the brewery.

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Russian River Brewing Co. is open in Santa Rosa on 4th St. and at their big Windsor location. Visit their website for up-to-date hours, menus, beers and more.

22:50, they mention Cappuccino Stout, which Tony says may be one of the earliest coffee beers in the US.  (In a Kurt Vonnegut story written long before the craft beer era, there is a mention of an award-winning beer in a fictional Indiana state fair, and coffee was the secret ingredient.)

They also mention the 420 Waldos and the Lagunitas beer that celebrates the story. The Waldos were guests on Brew Ha Ha on this episode back in 2019. They remember the Beer Circus, which sounds like you had to have seen it. Listen to the end to hear the story about the time Lagunitas got shut down for 20 days and how that became the stuff of legend.

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