Earlier this month Lagunitas Brewing Co. from Petaluma California were up in Vancouver sharing their beer and celebrating a new distribution deal in Canada. By the looks of things this is going to mean we will be seeing much more of their beer on tap in pubs and bars in Vancouver and elsewhere.
If you’re unfamiliar with Lagunitas, they are one of the larger craft breweries in the USA. They have expanded their operations to Chicago and are expecting to open another brewery in California in 2017. Last year Heineken purchased a 50 percent stake in the company, although Lagunitas will continue to operate independently in the USA. Lagunitas needs to get their brand and their beer further afield to justify these expansion plans and growth in Canada is one of the keys to their strategy.
Similar to Deschutes Brewery making an effort to expand into pubs and bars in Canada, something I’ve written about over at Beer Me BC, Lagunitas sees Canada generally and BC in particular as a prime market for for their own expansion. Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island customers are savvy and know quality beer when they taste it, but Lagunitas is no slouch when it comes to quality.
The Lagunitas IPA for example is an incredibly balanced beer with great hop character, aroma, and flavour, yet still incredibly sessionable in spite of being 6.2% ABV. The group from Lagunitas that traveled to Vancouver brought plenty of the IPA along, but they also shared a rich barrel-aged stout that was delicious. I must stay that if there’s an opportunity to have that stout again I’m definitely on board.
It will be interesting to see how the Vancouver market takes to this influx of great beer from the USA that comes from well-established craft breweries. Since Lagunitas is focusing mostly on competing for taps in pubs, and will be doing it through a new distribution company affiliated with Molson, it’s likely that they may be able to edge out local brands in some pubs.
That said, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to have Lagunitas – or indeed other US craft breweries – on tap next to our home-town favourites. If they’re quality beers, then it gives people an opportunity to try something tasty that they may have never had before. It also gives local breweries the ability to go toe-to-toe with these well-established breweries and prove that their beer is indeed just as good or better than an established, imported brand.
While Vancouver is a savvy market, it’s also fairly loyal toward local breweries. Not exclusively, but the proliferation of pubs that are selling mostly BC or Vancouver beer seems to be increasing based on my own observations and anecdotal evidence. Non-scientific, I know, but I feel like every time I go into a pub these days – aside from a few stand-out exceptions – there’s usually at least one if not more taps from Vancouver breweries on offer.
So Lagunitas and others have their work cut out for them. I wish them well, frankly. I’m a big fan of their beer and I think they’re a welcome addition to any tap list. And it’s much easier as a consumer to justify spending an extra $0.50 to get a quality, imported pint than it is to spend an extra $2 – $5 or more to pick up a six-pack or a bomber of imported beer at the bottle shop. It’s all about perceived value.
So when you go out for your next pint, depending on the pub you visit, you may be seeing Lagunitas on tap more frequently. I think it behooves you to try one of their beers and see what you think, if for no other reason than to confirm that in spite of the quality they bring to the market, we’ve still got it pretty good here.