Brewery Review: Lagunitas Brewing Co., Petaluma, CA

One evening in 2007, the Deacon and I were working late, testing and re-terminating network connections.  Talk about BORING! The Deacon and I determined that we NEEDED some malty distraction from our present trials and tribulations.  We headed down to the local stop and rob to see what adult beverages the purveyor of potent potables possessed. (Can I just say that alliteration is awesome?) Amidst the flotsam and jetsam that is the regular convenience store beer selection was a beer from a brewery that caught our eyes.  Smack dab in the middle of “Had That” and “That Too” was a beer that looked as if the name had been censored.  Of course, censoring something only serves to heighten its appeal, so this beer seemed to actually be glowing ever-so-slightly from the potentially illicit nature of its name. Based on that sort of marketing gimmick alone, the beer had already been tossed into our “Must Have” basket, and we headed for the cashier, not knowing what a game-changing experience we’d stumbled upon. The beer was Censored Copper Ale, and the brewery was Lagunitas Brewing Company operating in Petaluma, California. Hit the jump to hear a little more about them.

Lagunitas Brewery

Certainly looks magical, doesn't it?

Where the Magic Happens

When I started looking around at the history of the Lagunitas Brewery, I was astounded to discover that it had been around since 1993!  Granted, less than a decade after the craft beer revolution kicked off, distribution of some of these quality brews were not what they would eventually become, but given that I didn’t discover this gem of a Northern California brewery until circa 2007, I was surprised that the brewery was already well into its second decade of existence! The brewery was started, predictably enough, in the city of Lagunitas, CA, and moved into Petaluma , CA about a year later, as their growth was phenomenal! What is even more phenomenal is that this brewery is located less than 2.5 hours from my present location. They are certainly on my to-visit shortlist!

The Magic

Listed below are a couple of my favorites, but just because I didn’t list a beer here doesn’t mean it’s not worth drinking.  ALL their beers are worth drinking.  All of them.  All…

Censored Copper Ale – While this is probably not considered to be their flagship beer, I have a soft spot in my heart for the beer that caused me to discover this fantastic brewery. I have NO idea what the name was originally supposed to be, or whether it was a marketing ploy from the get go, but it’s a mighty tasty beer. There is a fantastic “homebrewed” flavor to each and every Lagunitas beer, and it’s present here.  Rich and malty, with a strong supporting undercurrent of hops to get you through those late-night Cat5e network terminations…or whatever you might be doing when you drink easy-drinking, bit-more-than-a-session beer. (6.75% is not session, no matter what the current standard may be.)

Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ AleThis beer packs a WALLOP of hops, but at 7.5% also possesses the malt to stand up to them. Something I’m sure we’ll talk about at some point, but should be pointed out now, the International Bittering Unit (IBU) rating of a beer does not accurately describe the PERCEPTION of hops.  A well-balanced beer will seem like less IBU’s than are actually present because malt interferes with your ability to sense bitterness.  Lagunitas lists the IBU rating of all their beers on the packaging, which is awesome, but keep in mind if the Original Gravity (OG) of the beer is high enough (which describes the amount of malt or fermentable sugars in the beer before fermentation), you’re not going to be able to sense all those IBU’s.  Check the IBU rating of a typical Russian Imperial Stout.  They’re going to be WAY high, but you’re not going to sense all those hops.  The same phenomenon is going on with this Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale.  It’s got a TON of hops, but the malt balances it out perfectly.  I’d say this is a good lawnmower beer as it’s nice and golden in color, but that would only be accurate if you do your lawn right before passing out…But it’s definitely a wonderful, refreshing beer.

Lagunitas Hairy Eyeball

Here's lookin' atcha!

The Hairy Eyeball – You ever wake up after 10-too-many with the feeling like your eyeball might have a nice layer of fuzz on it? Unpleasant, right?  Well, that’s not what drinking this fantastic winter warmer is all about. This beer is robust, brown, and full of such malty goodness that if you drink too many, you MIGHT end up knowing exactly what I was talking about in the first sentence of this paragraph.  One of my favorites from this brewery, it can only be found in the early part of the year, so ask your local stop and rob clerk to pick up a couple cases.  As with all Lagunitas beers, they do NOT ignore the hops, but the crystal malts are the showcased ingredient here, and it really is something to behold.

IPA – If I understand correctly, this IPA is their flagship beer, and a better representation of what the talented folks at Lagunitas can do cannot be found. The malt is the supporting cast in this fantastically bitter IPA while the hops are really allowed to soar.  From the nose to the finish, you’re drinking a hop-cocktail (a hoptail?), and it really is a spectacle.  If you don’t like hops, we suggest you drink nothing but this IPA for a month, and see if that doesn’t change your mind.  If not, please send us your unused portion…  🙂

Lagunitas Brown Shugga

Sadly not available this year, but Lord willing, we will have some more next year!

Brown Shugga – This beer adds to the traditional lineup of hops, barley, water, and yeast a strange bedfellow to brewers of fine ales, and that is where the beer gets its name: Brown Sugar. UM WOW!  This beer is rich, malty, and will KNOCK YOU ON YOUR ASCOT! One of my all-time favorite Lagunitas brews, I’ve not had this one in awhile.  USUALLY available in October, you REALLY NEED to try and find it next year. I say next year because this year’s batch was canceled when the brewery announced that it did not have the capacity to brew this highly-sought-after beer.  Maybe it’s mean of me to stoke your lust for this unobtainium beer, but I’m hoping there will be some more next year, and it’s certainly worth the wait!  Fermented brown sugar, provides a nice, rich mouthfeel to this truly HUGE beer. (Why is it huge?  10%, that’s why.) Another thing…while I don’t doubt the accuracy of their labels in listing it as 9.99% abv…..ok I do doubt it.  After a single bottle, you will be able to feel my disbelief yourself.

As I said before, my congregants, there is not a single beer that Lagunitas brews poorly.  Try them all! And read the bottles, as they really are quite humorous….especially after a Brown Shugga’ or three.

3 thoughts on “Brewery Review: Lagunitas Brewing Co., Petaluma, CA

  1. In response to your review of Lagunitas Brown Shugga’: Lagunitas did offer a limited release in 2011 labeled “Lagunitas Sucks Holiday Ale Brown Sugga’ Substitute”. At least here in Tucson it sold out promptly. Maybe because of the humorous label (you should see) but I really feel due to the goodness of this winter warmer. I say it was a fantastic sub (not a clone) for Shugga’. Even in their self admitted shame “WE SUCK” on the label, they produced a beer that was just as good and tasty as any of their product. I personally thought the LSHA-BSS was the best winter ale I had all season (had plenty of good ones). Would like to send you a photo of the label cause we may not see it again this year. Too bad, maybe if we write them pleading for more, they’ll make another limited release and this time call it ‘Holiday sompin’.

      • Well… just got the news; seems Luganitas lost a 250bbl lauder tun while on a freighter in the eastern Carribean (during a hurricane) that was to be part of their new expanded brewery slated to open for operation in March. So they can’t come up with this year’s Hairy Eyeball or Brown Shugga’ as planned until who knows when yet. In leiu, they again released, I guess, what was left over from their Shugga’ substitute. Only now they’re calling it “Lagunitas Sucks Holiday Leftovers Ale” with an equally amuzing image of a half eaten Santa Clause cookie, crumbs, flys and all. The beer is still the same tasty stuff, good enough for a session with leftover cookies. If you see the new 6-pack carton in your store you’ll see the artwork along with a blurb on the bottom telling the “Exciting Details” of what happen to their tanks en route to America.

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