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COURSEY: A beer baron's backyard philosophy

Even if Tony Magee was at work right now in Petaluma, instead of vacationing in France, you'd envy his job.

He makes beer, after all, and seems to have a heck of a lot of fun in the process.

What other business owner would reply to a competitor's threat of a trademark lawsuit with a cavalier Twitter posting: “Good news is, I'll let ya have the 420 thing. Is that a win?”

Most executives would have called in their lawyers had their company received a demand letter claiming trademark infringement. Magee, of Lagunitas Brewing Co., essentially shrugged and said, No biggie; it's yours.

We shouldn't be surprised. The 52-year-old owner of one of the country's most successful craft breweries may take beer seriously, but not much else. The Lagunitas motto is, after all: Beer speaks. People mumble.

But Magee mumbles in a way that demands attention — even as he deflects it. He practices a brand of back-yard philosophy that sounds mushy at first blush, but has actually turned into an effective marketing tool.

Take this quote, for example, from a profile of Magee written by the PD's Sean Scully a few months ago:

"I don't think we're in the beer business ... we're in the tribe-building business," he told Scully.

In other words, you're not just a customer if you drink Lagunitas IPA or Hairy Eyeball or Little Sumpin' Sumpin'. You're a member of the tribe. You're not just quaffing beer. You're participating in a social ritual.

For a piece on NBCNews.com that highlighted Magee's plans to expand Lagunitas from its Petaluma roots with a new brewery in Chicago, Magee gently undermined any suggestion that he is a beer baron growing his empire:

“Life is a process of elimination. You really don't know what you need or what you want, you only know for sure what you won't tolerate any more,” he said as he toured his Petaluma brewery with a camera crew. “So we try to keep business-school language at bay here because we want to communicate like humans.”

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